July 4th, 2012
01:06 PM ET
10 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. ourjungle

    There are over 2000 pages to the Obamacare law, and about that many websites concerning this topic,each with various self-interest interpretations. Here are a few websites that have fleshed out the Obamacare pages (one does not have to be a lawyer to read these articles):

    (1) "Health Care Law Mandate/Tax: How Many People Will It Affect?"
    (2) "Obamacare: Seven New Taxes On Citizens Earning Less Than $250,000."
    (3) "Romney,Obama Uphold Health Care Falsehoods."
    (4) "Obamacare Tax Now Violates Obama's 2008 Tax Pledge."

    Briefly, from the above articles:
    (A) 75% of the Obamacare mandate penalty falls on Americans earning less than $120,000 a year.President Obama has imposed one of the largest tax hikes in American history on the Middle class.
    (B) The Congressional Budget Office estimates that Obamacare will add 1.5 trillion dollars to our Nation's debt over a ten year period (young people will inherit this Obamacare costs).

    Obama's 3 1/2 years of demonstrated, and continued economic practices are leading the United States into a state of Economic Depression. Divorce rates go through the roof, and marriage rates crash during a Nation's time of Economic Depression. We can slow, and even stop Obama's Financial Train Wreck this November........with your help.

    July 4, 2012 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  2. Baa Weet

    its no different from when you don't pay your student loans,and its taken from your tax return instead.

    July 4, 2012 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  3. John

    Mitt Romney just can't make up his mind ,If he had one. He Flip-Flop all the time, does he even know where he stand on anything. And him changing his mind so much make you wonder who Is pulling His string.

    July 4, 2012 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  4. bob

    romney agrees with SCOTUS, why does CNN have to invent this non story?

    oh, libs are weaklings.

    July 4, 2012 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  5. Ivywoods

    Republicans STOP WHINING!!!! I am a nurse and I see how many people come into the hospital without health insurance, and they are NOT low income people who usually have some form of state issued health coverage, it is the middle class folks who never have health insurance coverage. STOP FREELOADING ON MY TAXES AND PURCHASE YOUR HEALTH INSURANCE! Please stop whining, and stop FREELOADING, aren't you folks supposed to be the party of personal responsibility, so why are you so against buying yourself some health insurance? But first, before you do that, please tell Sheldon Aldeson and Trump to purchase your party another candidate, this one is as stupid as a pocket of rocks!

    July 4, 2012 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  6. Riptim

    I think whoever gets to Romney first thing in the morning and tells him what to say for the day is what he says. The guy does not have an original thought of his own. He flip flops every day. By the time November comes the people will be wondering why he is even running for president, I know there are many tea baggers wondering what they have been stuck with. Obama in a landslide case closed

    July 4, 2012 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  7. bob

    SCOTUS has declared the entire legal basis for obamacare is that it is a giant tax.

    of course it is a giant tax, the largest single tax increase in US history.

    way to go libs.

    July 4, 2012 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  8. marconidarwin

    So Willard contradicted Mitt.

    Is this even surprising anymore?

    July 4, 2012 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  9. MaryM

    It,s a tax, It's not a tax, it's a penalty, it's not a penality, it's a tax, its a mandate , its not a mandate
    flip-flop, flip-flop,flip-flop, flip-flop,

    I,m Mitt Romney and I dont know if I approve this message.

    July 4, 2012 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  10. bob

    an invented weakling story by libs.

    romney agrees with SCOTUS.... both state it is a tax.

    in fact, the largest single tax increase in US history.

    FACTS libs just have to invent stories about which to distract their followers.

    July 4, 2012 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  11. once upon a horse

    Thanks Mitt I won my beer bet......I told my buds Mitt was gonna flip on this he just took a little longer than I thought he would. Now for a nice cold one!

    July 4, 2012 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  12. GordyB

    Why not just change his name to Flipper!

    July 4, 2012 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  13. Lenny Pincus

    It's a tax. It's not a tax. Repeat as necessary. Romney wouldn't know reality if it lived in Upstate New York and fought a war with natives Americans.

    July 4, 2012 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  14. Karin L.Swanson, Pres. Candidate

    My FB wall [at Mt. Rushmore] has a Fourth of July message describing history as the U.S. struggled with the Dred Scott Decision, pushing our nation to further find solutions in epic acts not needed if only the U.S. Supreme Court had an idea of the true scope of a simple minded decision. -KLS

    July 4, 2012 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  15. Gopswine

    Never in our History, has so many ponzi shemes and criminal banking/investment fraud occurred during one administration. We can all thank Jr/cheney....If that wasn't enought, the merry band of gop flunkies were selling the US Taxpayers of the benefits of a nonexistent SEC budget, deregulation and the benefits of trickle down economics due to tax cuts geared only to the 1%er's. Come Nov 2012, Vote the merry band of gop flunkies to the curb.....

    July 4, 2012 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  16. bob

    SCOTUS has ruled that legally, it is a tax.
    that is the end of the discussion.... unless you're afraid to admit you've created that largest tax in US history.

    July 4, 2012 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  17. bob

    SCOTUS says it's a tax..... end of discussion, right?

    oh, not if you have to confuse and distract your followers with BS.

    July 4, 2012 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  18. jean2009

    The worst possible thing that could happen is the individual states each have confusing and inconsistent health coverage...or in some cases no coverage. That would be a nightmare for a mobile society, and so costly for insurers that no one in the middle class could afford health care...exactly what the greedy ole party probably wants anyway.. We need a centralized government overseen health coverage that will keep the states in line.

    So say Pennsylvania passed a generous health insurance program and Maryland didn't can you see all he sick people running across the border from Maryland to Pennsylvania each time they got sick. That would be a MESS!

    The Swiss have the same insurance based health care system referred to as Obamacare and Romneycare and it works for them. So do several other European countries. Universal Single Payer doesn't mean there is not a cost to the citizens. Masschusetts has Romenycare which mandates that each person be responsible for purchasing a health insurance policy...Penalty/Tax.
    There are penalty taxes for not doing certain other things like late filling of your income tax. Marriage penalty/tax....etc.

    Well this is a penalty tax to discourage you from freeloading on the health care system...and if you do you should be penalized with a tax....especially with all the help provided to make sure you can afford to be covered.
    Here we are with national health care ranked at 25th in life expectancy and 29th for infant mortality even Solvenia outranks us.

    I am so sick of the GOP with all their whining over the fact that they didn't pass the legislation and so they don't have bragging rights about passing it....and frankly bottom line that is the only thing this whole uproar is over.
    Richard Nixon wanted to pass the same legislation nationally....and Teddy Roosevelt wanted to pass health care legislation.

    In this world of seriously expensive health care, everyone should be covered by insurance, and no one should be put into the position of bankruptcy due to their ill health, and they should not make everyone else carry their cost if they can afford to cover themselves. If you honestly can't afford insurance I'm not against my rates going up to cover you, but if you can afford insurance and refuse to purchase it due to your selfish greed...then I say fine you should pay the IDIOT Health Insurance PENALTY-TAX...or whatever your politician wants to call it this week....I think Romney called it a penalty when it passed in Massachusetts...but all he does is flip-flop and now calls it a tax.

    It is a tax for being so stupid you won't insurance yourself even when you can afford to do so.

    July 4, 2012 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  19. Eric

    So what? His top aid calls it a penalty and hes calling it a Tax? Hows he "Flip floping" if hes contradicting someone else? And to be perfectly Honest who give a F***? what ever it's called it all boils down to stealing from the working man, how about we just all agree and call it what it is, THEFT.

    July 4, 2012 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  20. Rick James

    Ahhhhh, Mitt Romney performing mental gymnastics, this guy is a piece of work.

    Fehrnstrom said is wasn't a tax, and Mitt just basically flipped the script today. What gives? I won't get "taxed" because I have health insurance. It's like getting a fine for speeding. If I don't speed, I don't get fined. And for those who believe that this is a "government takeover", it's not. It's just some much needed regulation for an industry that needs it. The good thing about this bill is that now we are just mere decades behind other countries in access to health care, instead of centuries. It's isn't perfect, but it's a start.

    Mitt and the Republicans have NO plan to replace this if that could actually repeal it. And yeah, I've heard of insurance across state lines and tort reform, but those could've been tried during 2000-2006 instead of going to an unnecessary war and deregulating everything in sight. Even they admit that they won't solve this in 2013. Get ready for more denials and bankruptcies if guys hold the levers of power. Should be fun.

    July 4, 2012 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  21. Peace

    @ Sue
    Are you ill informed what Dems stand for??? All the time I do wonder what your comments are basing on! It is really absurd!

    July 4, 2012 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  22. vmr

    Mitt Romney has to voices one from top and another one from bottom. Top one says Tax and bottom one says penality.

    July 4, 2012 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  23. Myviewis


    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...?

    Romneycare is a Penalty. Democrats are flipping it to confuse voters. Luckily, voters can read and unlike most Democrats voters know the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare's Tax.

    July 4, 2012 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  24. Ben

    Well... it is a tax. Isn't the more interesting story that Obama is still pretending he didn't raise taxes when the referees already announced that he did?

    July 4, 2012 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  25. wade

    Who cares what you call it? It is an enormous fiasco for the middle class and poor. Wait an see how horrible it really gets. America you have just been led off an economic cliff and are too stupid to see it coming.

    July 4, 2012 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
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