July 4th, 2012
01:06 PM ET
8 years ago

Romney calls health care mandate a 'tax,' contradicts top aide

(CNN) - Mitt Romney said the federal health care reform mandate constitutes a "tax" Wednesday, contradicting the way a senior adviser to his campaign characterized his position earlier this week.

But the similar individual mandate and fee he signed into law when governor of Massachusetts is not a tax, he said in a separate interview, citing the Supreme Court's decision last Thursday.

Of the federal law, Romney told CNN's Dana Bash and Shawna Shepherd, "Supreme Court is the final word, right? The highest court in the land? They said it's a tax didn't they?"

"So it's a tax, of course, if that's what they say it is," he continued.

Romney had first commented on the federal law in a CBS News interview Wednesday.

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The high court last Thursday upheld the law's individual mandate – which requires individuals who can afford it to obtain coverage, or otherwise pay a fee collected by the Internal Revenue Service - under Congress' taxation power.

But it allowed states have broader powers, which Romney cited as the reason the Massachusetts fee is not a tax.

"States can implement penalties and mandates and so forth under their constitutions, which is what Massachusetts did," he said in the CBS interview. "But the federal government does not have those powers, and therefore for the Supreme Court to reach the conclusion it did – that the law was constitutional – they had to find it was a tax, and they did."

The Massachusetts law has been compared by some Republicans and Democrats alike to the federal law, but Romney has repeatedly rejected similarities. Romney has argued his law was a "state solution to a state problem" and has maintained he would move to repeal the federal law if elected president.

Eric Fehrnstrom, the senior adviser to Romney's campaign, said in a Monday interview that Romney thought the fee that will be generated by the federal law was not a tax despite the Supreme Court's ruling.

"He agreed with the dissent written by Justice Scalia which very clearly stated that the mandate was not a tax," Fehrnstrom said on MSNBC. And, when further questioned as to whether Romney agreed with Democrats, who have argued the mandate is not a tax, Fehrnstrom said "correct."

In the CBS News interview, Romney affirmed that he agreed with the dissent - the minority opinion of the high court – regarding the validity of President Obama's health care law but accepted that the majority opinion was law.

"I said that I agreed with the dissent and the dissent made it very clear that they felt it was unconstitutional. But the dissent lost," Romney said. "It's in the minority. And so now the Supreme Court has spoken, and while I agreed with dissent, it's taken over by the fact that the majority of the court said that it's a tax and therefore it is a tax."

Acknowledging the individual mandate as a tax also gave Romney an opportunity to criticize Obama over the law. This is the line of criticism most Republicans have taken since the ruling. Obama had said while campaigning that the mandate would not raise taxes.

"And the American people know that President Obama has broken the pledge he made," Romney said in the CBS interview. "He said he wouldn't raise taxes on middle income Americans."

David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Obama's reelection campaign, suggested in a tweet that Romney's different positions on the Massachusetts and federal laws were contradictory.

"Mitt: Fed freerider penalty is 'tax,' identical MA law is not. If he were in WH, parsley would be official veg: Twister, national pasttime," he posted.

In March, Fehrnstrom made headlines for saying in a CNN interview that the transition from the primaries to the general election was "almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again."

Romney's Republican rivals seized on the remark, suggesting that voters could not trust Romney not to change his views as November approached.

Later that day, Romney stepped before the microphones to clarify his campaign's position.

"Organizationally, a general election campaign takes on a different profile," Romney said. "The issues I am running on will be exactly the same. I am running as a conservative Republican. I was a conservative Republican governor. I will be running as a conservative Republican nominee, at that point hopefully, for president. The policies and positions are the same."

Earlier this week, GOP backer and Newscorp head Rupert Murdoch said in a tweet that Romney's staff could use some retooling.

"Tough O[bama] Chicago pros will be hard to beat unless he drops old friends from team and hires some real pros," Murdoch tweeted on Sunday.

Former GE CEO Jack Welch followed Murdoch's tweet with one of his own on Monday, saying he hoped "Mitt Romney is listening to Murdoch advice [on] campaign staff..playing in league with Chicago pols..No room for amateurs."

- CNN's Gregory Wallace contributed to this report

Filed under: 2012 • Health care • Mitt Romney
soundoff (343 Responses)
  1. Keith in SoJax

    In our house, we call Romney "Gumby" because his lack of a spine allows him to take just about any position. I like etch-a-sketch too. On leadership, Gumby and his Repub party earn about a 30/100. The Dems get about 55/100. Not as bad, but still a failing grade.

    July 4, 2012 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  2. PR

    Just another flip-flop by two-faced Mitt.

    July 4, 2012 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  3. dallasjones

    Maybe tomorrow he will think it is a gym fee, what a klutz!

    July 4, 2012 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  4. Keith in SoJax

    what can i write that isn's censored? Is this China?

    July 4, 2012 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  5. phenoy

    Another Flip from the King of Flip-Flops!!

    July 4, 2012 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  6. Jill-IN

    Mitt Flipper, there you go again. First he said this, then he says that ... on and on. You know what, if someone wants to use health care services and yet can't see the reason why they should buy insurance, then I think they deserve to pay a $92 tax (or fee or penalty) per year. Maybe we should also ask them to sign an opt-out agreement that they are deciding right then and there not to use health care services ever – you know because they say they will not need them. Maybe they will think hard and long about saying no to health insurance then.

    July 4, 2012 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  7. ruemorgue

    Romeny is a tax. He's taxing every person's patience ...

    July 4, 2012 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  8. Free man in the Republic of Texas

    "The NOT a TAX... TAX"
    Makes perfect liberal sense...


    There is pollution in America.
    Pollution affects everyone.

    Everyone over 18 MUST purchase a VOLT.

    "The NOT a TAX... TAX" for NOT purchasing a VOLT
    from government motors is $7,500.00

    The IRS will be the enforcement agency.
    They have your address.
    14,000 New IRS agents with shotguns
    will make sure you pay
    "The NOT a TAX... TAX"

    -> -> -> MOVING FORWARD -> -> ->
    To life on the government plantation !!!

    July 4, 2012 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  9. R. Anderson

    Mr. Romney... of course it's a tax... and taxes are what pay politicians salaries and your amazing health care package you all get. Taxes are a part of this country and any country who take care of you politicians. How about using that tax to pay our soldiers a little better, how about using it to hire construction workers to re-build our national highways? How about fixing our collapsing bridges? How about using it to pay police and law enforcement? How about saving those billions that the GOP got us into the last 2 wars and spending that for national health care. What kind of economic genius are you?

    July 4, 2012 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  10. Jill-IN

    to Think Again - I like your comment – good one!

    July 4, 2012 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  11. mike

    He had to check with his bosses the tea party and rush to see what he was supposed to say.this guy just cant think for himself..what a pathetic excuse for a leader! I tell you if he is elected he will be treated like toilet paper by his bosses

    July 4, 2012 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  12. works4me

    As usual he's full of mitt. What a rectal cavity...

    July 4, 2012 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  13. DJ Reality

    I sure took Willard a while to come around to the republican line didn't it. Gee is he can't walk in lock step with his party what good is he.

    July 4, 2012 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  14. American

    i.e. Romneycare was a tax, before it became his tax penalty, when swung to just a penalty, and miraculously summer-salted back to a tax.

    Does Team Romney ever stop flip-flopping...?

    July 4, 2012 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  15. Olaf Big

    I just don't get it. Romney is digging his own grave by putting Obamacare repeal at the front of his campaign. The more he talks about it the more he gets tangled in contradictions trying to separate his plan from Obama's. And this is totally useless. Very few people will give their votes to Romney because he promises to repeal Obamacare. Truth is, in the end people vote for their material interests, not for or against abstract ideas. And most voters are not affected by Obamacare in any way, and those who are, only going to benefit from it, once the dust settles. Even insurance companies will see benefits in doing business in this new environment. Romney is just beating a dead horse to please a small group diehard conservatives, who have nowhere else to go anyway.

    July 4, 2012 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  16. chris

    GOPer's wouldn't care if romney had 10 heads married to 100 chicks and killed 100mil jobs by sending them all to china and korea and asked everybody to just lie down and die. he ain't black so he'll do...

    July 4, 2012 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  17. Coopr

    lObama's SG argued that this was a TAX before the SOTUS, It is more than one Tax, Middle class wll pay so much for this Law.

    July 4, 2012 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  18. RNC is out of touch with Latinos, Women and Middle Class Americans

    Unbelievable! Mitt Romney flip flops on his own mandate, forced to called it a tax. Romney could of had a sister solider moment but he's too weak to president.

    July 4, 2012 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  19. mcrusa

    To all you Teavangelicals who support Romney : how can you support a man if you can’t determine what is true position is on any of the issues that are important to you, such as : preventing health care reform, outlawing abortion, denying equal rights to gays etc. ? Have you ever considered that as a devout Mormon, Romney, deep in his heart, may not even believe you will be allowed to pass through those pearly gates when you die?

    July 4, 2012 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  20. baum

    So what? taxes get us what we like to call civilization.

    July 4, 2012 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  21. incredulous

    How does anyone support Romney when they don't know what he stands for on any given day?

    July 4, 2012 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  22. Rick1948

    I don't know what the big deal is. The government forces you to buy auto insurance to protect the finances of someone you might run in to. Now the government will force you to buy medical insurance to protect the finances of everyone who has to pay higher rates to cover when you go to the emergency room with no intention of paying. Same difference.

    July 4, 2012 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  23. Onceagain

    MollyBee.................????? I think any more tax is a penalty, and yes I am for Romney. I like Obama as a person, but certainly not a leader of our country. We are getting taxed, fined, penalized and no jobs to boot."

    And you really think the GOP is going to get us out of the predicament they (GOP) got us into? Think again and google "National debt" Our national debt started to climb with Reagan and his the trickle down theory and reaganomics. Then Bush 1 continued with our national debt sky rocketing. Clinton got it under control then Bush Jr. sent our national debt to the moon with his credit card spending.

    July 4, 2012 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  24. joshua

    not only is obamacare a tax, it's the largest middle class tax increase in the history of the world.

    July 4, 2012 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  25. Thomas

    Donkey Party – Your posts is a typical hate fulled response from the liberal parasites in this country. You have nothing to debate. You have nothing period.

    Man you are one angry guy , last tine somebody used the term "liberal parasites" was from a guy named Adolf H !
    I sugest you find the nearest Nazi Anonymous meeting and rase your hand.

    As for Romney , he wants all the trees the same size . Maybe he finds them easer to market , who know's . The guy is out of touch with the real world , I for one don't want to live under his corporate dictatorship .

    Freedom without diversity isn't Freedom .

    July 4, 2012 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
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