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. Cooper

    Obama's Solicator General argued this was a TAX before the SCOTUS. It is more than one TAX. Middle class will pay so much for this Law.

    July 4, 2012 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  2. Beadles

    Chazz – so true. Thanks for a succinct and excellent post.

    July 4, 2012 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  3. kmac

    Roberts had no choice to vote for the bill. Anything else would have destroied so many other court rulings concerning commerece, and general welfare. It was the only ruling that would have atleast give the cons some sort of satisfaction. The other Cons on the court would have reversed Scalia's own opinion or health care as interstate commerce and would have pulled limits on general welfare and commerece out of thin air. Roberts knew he couldn't just begin to impose limits when there are none. Ruling it a tax lets cons run around yelling tax tax tax which bothers only them.

    July 4, 2012 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  4. Paul

    Gotta love the cop-out.... "well, jeepers, if the court says its a tax, then by gum, it's a tax, because one musn't ever argue with the SCOTUS, unless they decide something we don't like.... golly....."

    July 4, 2012 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  5. NamelAy

    How can any middle class american honestly think rommney is in this for them! He is not in this for you , he's in this race to " do whatever it takes to make Obama a one term president at the expense of america". Just ask Mcconnell

    July 4, 2012 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  6. TR808

    How did he get so rich? He seems like an idiot!

    July 4, 2012 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  7. Onceagain

    @valwayne..... They say ignorance is bliss....... how does it feel?

    July 4, 2012 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  8. taxedmore

    Bottom line – 30,000,000 people are getting a freebie and the 53% are gointto pay for it.

    July 4, 2012 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  9. Peggy

    Bored with him yet? I am.

    July 4, 2012 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  10. 0rangeW3dge

    I certainly do not think that we need Mitt Romney telling us what is, or is not, a tax,, or anything else for that matter. He would call the sky green and the trees green if it suited his audience d' jour.

    July 4, 2012 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  11. Joel

    And if the supreme court were to say that Mitt Romney is a gorilla, would he be a gorilla? If they said that the sky is black and that grass is transparent, would it be so? The supreme court was divided as closely as you can divide an odd number in half with only whole numbers as a result. I guess since it's nearly identical, the RomneyCare you dictated over your people in Mass. was a tax as well? What about unpaid fines that are deducted from state refunds every year that have gone unpaid? Do these penalties transform into taxes as well?

    To have a high position in government or business one does not need intelligence. In lots of cases intelligence hurts the chances of getting there. All you need is a daddy who was honest and respected who was in the upper levels of government and/or business. Then you can follow his lead and become whatever corrupt, lying, stealing, hypocrit of a 'leader' you aspire to be. Otherwise, how did you and G.W. Bush get even close to the white house?

    July 4, 2012 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  12. michelle - san francisco

    honestly, they (Dems and GOP) can call it whatever they want, people just don't care what name they give it. If you have half a brain, you know exactly what it is: a cross between a penalty and a tax. call it a hybrid and stop wasting our time, focus on what matters instead..

    July 4, 2012 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  13. TobeMeister

    It,s only a tax if a Democrat is doing it. If a Republican is doing it, it's a Fee.

    July 4, 2012 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  14. pastmormon2

    And Romney believes he and his family and other "worthy" mormons will become gods after they die. The mormons also believe that GOD himself was once a human man on a distant planet called Kolob. Sooo....are you really going to believe anything Romney says? Really????

    July 4, 2012 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  15. Mark

    So they are the same thing, but the states don't have to call it a tax, so it isn't one?

    Nothing like screwing up a development that otherwise was going to help your chances. Romney didn't need to say a word on this, except to confirm he'd push for repeal. Let the GOP, the Super PACs and Fox do the hatchet jobs on it being a tax.

    July 4, 2012 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  16. Dan

    All i can say is, if the money that these idiot politicians take in as "campain" donations was used for things like oh i dont no say, helping those in need or similar humanitarian goals it speaks louder than slamming your opponent with the same old tired rhetoric that every election has. IMO Romney is so far out of touch with the working class its not even funny. Dont get me wrong Obama hasn't done an outstanding job either, but he is the king of flip flop like everyone has said. Trickle down economics does not work and it never will. I used to vote majority republican but since the last term that Bush held i have become more and more disgusted with both sides of fence. When the hell will we actually have a candidate that really represents ALL the people of the US. Not just the typical class warfare that usually accompanies every candiate.

    July 4, 2012 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  17. Greekj

    Romney needs to choose Cheney as his VP.. Haliburton stock is down; Cayman Island needs repairs; Swiss bank employees need to eat too! Cheney/Romney... Cheney/ Bush what's the difference?

    July 4, 2012 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  18. California

    A vote for Hussein is a vote for Biden. Biden = Palin in so may ways.

    July 4, 2012 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  19. duane st.pete FL

    you know before Romney called it a tax the Supreme Court declared it a tax so there really is no doubt it's a tax.........

    July 4, 2012 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  20. California

    Lies & Cover-Up Holder / Obama........ Crooks

    That is a fact.

    July 4, 2012 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  21. TobeMeister

    It's only a tax if a Democrat is doing it. If a Repub is doing it, it's a Fee.

    July 4, 2012 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  22. Gurgyl

    Flip-flop idiot. Yes, Obama12.

    July 4, 2012 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  23. BlackHeywood

    He's such a liar,my goodness. He makes himself unfit to be POTUS.

    July 4, 2012 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  24. andres

    If splitting hairs is what the romney camp is offerring as a campaign, then Obama has little to worry about. Yet again (96 and 2004) the republican party it its own worst enemy and will through their choice of weak and ineffective candidates hand yet another electon over to the democrats.

    Yet another year of voting for the presidential candidate who I least dislike.

    July 4, 2012 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  25. Jacques

    What a jerk!

    July 4, 2012 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
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