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. pragmatist

    The logic Romney uses might work on a 6 year old, but older than that............................................?
    I'm amazed at how gullible he must think the American People are. Whether you support the health care overhaul or not is immaterial in this case; you've just witnessed Mr. Romney at his most arrogant. To think that people will swallow this line of malarky? He's got to think we are stupid.
    He'll never see my vote.

    July 4, 2012 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  2. truebob

    truebob:"I think your horse is dead."
    romney:'I don't think that matters, as long as it looks like I am against the President."
    truebob:"gross, and...gross".

    July 4, 2012 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  3. jim

    Must be Weds! What a spineless wimp.

    July 4, 2012 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  4. Larry - Hazleton, Pa

    Only the republicans could make sense of what Mr Romney says – he totally confuses me – he is more twisted than a pile of rattlesnakes –

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

    I see, Mitt. It was a tax when you did it, and was right for Massachusetts, but now that the bad old Obama has done it, it evil. Fact is, it's nothing more than saying, "You don't get to freeload. You have to pay for your own healthcare. Can't make others do it." How far has the Republican Party fallen that it's great rallying cry now is, "Give me my right to have someone else pay for my health care!"

    July 4, 2012 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  6. Game

    They are both taxes. Do these guys think we are all dumb? I'm not voting for Romney or Obama. Can we please get decent candidates for one election? I need someone in the middle.

    July 4, 2012 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  7. joejeffrey

    Sure, Free Man inTexas, whne about your loss of liberty - the liberty to make other people pay for your health care. So liberty is good as long as it's for you, but not for the guy whose money you're going to steal. Some "man"!

    July 4, 2012 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  8. Real Patriot

    We pay taxes for useless services that threaten our freedoms...when its for something that actually saves lives, its bad.

    July 4, 2012 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  9. strangerq

    Got Flip!

    It took Romney 1 week to figure out, that he needed to flip flop his position – again!

    What a clown.

    And this guy wants to be President, why?

    And who cares why?

    Whatever the answer – he will denounce it tomorrow.

    July 4, 2012 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  10. Johnson

    Why should we be surprised that he has flip flopped again? This will happen again and again and again.

    July 4, 2012 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  11. Larry L


    A vote for Hussein is a vote for Biden. Biden = Palin in so may ways.
    Use of the word "Hussein" says so much about you. Your distorted logic says the rest...

    July 4, 2012 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  12. mommytwice

    What ever Romney says, look at the opposite, and that's probably the correct point. He has absolutely nothing besides "I'm not Obama". Nothing. He has no plan, he has no ideas he's told anyone about how he'd fix anything. he just yells, I'm not Obama", and offers nothing. Why would anyone vote for that?

    July 4, 2012 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  13. Winston Taylor

    I agree with Jack Welch 1000%

    July 4, 2012 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  14. TellasisPatel

    Shifty Romney himself has become an expensive joke of American politics. He is a confused candidate who is trying his best to fool voters to vote for him just because he wants to be our next President. But our country is neither Bain Capital nor Etch A Sketch toy. Thank you.

    July 4, 2012 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  15. southernwonder

    romney agrees with the dissent, and with the assent. he truly is a bipartisan guy.

    July 4, 2012 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  16. trex

    ....I dont CARE what you call it........the ACA is ....the LAW. And since the CBO has come out stating that the ACA will SAVE $125 BILLION over 10 years, the Senate MUST HAVE A ... SUPER MAJORITY... OF 67 SENATORS to overthrow the LAW. The ACA IS HERE TO STAY....................and MAKE THE FREELOADERS PAY....WITH THE ACA

    July 4, 2012 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  17. Larry L


    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.
    People who get health insurance will not pay the tax/penalty. You're allowing Fox News to create another artificial reality for political gain. It's simply a lie. This is dishonest and very unpatriotic.

    July 4, 2012 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  18. Sue

    According to liberals......."Republicans are the only ones who care whether or not Obamacare is a tax or not".....Well, I would start looking at all of the state/national poll results as well. Because the majority of Independents--who will decide the election in November-–also consider Obamacare a tax, the largest tax ever in the history of our country, and they do not want it!! Based on recent articles--when it is all said and done-–about 20 new taxes through Obamacare!! This includes the 40% tax that our military and their families-–as well as anyone else-–will pay in Obamacare tax, if Obama/Dems determine that you have a "cadillac" health care plan. That is why the IRS will be enforcing Obamacare!!

    July 4, 2012 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  19. Viking59

    I see Massachusetts calls it a tax penalty and those who fail to enroll lose their $219 personal exemption when they file their state taxes, How is the penalty imposed on the very poor with an income below $8000 who are not required to file a tax return with the state? Sure, these people will likely qualify for the free program but my work involves advising people to seek agency assistance for their electric bills and many of them return to me telling me they make $5 too much, they cannot obtain all the required paperwork or their income from the prior 6-12 months disqualified them from receiving any assistance. I am one of 25 people helping customers at a small utility so it is likely there are great numbers of people across our country in a situation that prevents them from qualifying for assistance programs like this. Some are even families with an active military parent. It is obvious that the think tanks that come up with the programs and the rules for them have never worked the front lines of an organization that helps people or given any real thought to 'walking a mile in their shoes.'

    July 4, 2012 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  20. Paulo

    And people want this bozo as a President? Romney has gone rouge on Romney! If Obama's plan is a tax then so is Romeny's Health care plan! Oh and lets see his other flippy flopps.... Romeny said on tape that he wouldn't go into Pakistan to get Osama Bin Laden... then after President Obama did the deed and Americans from coast to coast celebrated, and the Romney tape comes out Romney does a back flip and says "He would Have gone into Pakistan too"... Then Romney was all for the Obama Care Plan and then when the Teabaggers hated it Romney triple back flipped and said oooohhh meee tooo don't like health care plan because big bad old fat putty kats in the Republican Party hate it because Obama passed it!!!!!! Hmmm lets see it was Republicans who let the sub-prime loan disaster destroy the economy and it was Republicans who bailed out Goldman Sachs and AIG not a few billion but trillions of dollars in bailouts! But no tea bagger is after Republicans for that!!! Next Romney will flippty flop on taking a bath.... Hey no baths are in for young people.. and if it means getting votes then Romney would stop bathing just for a few votes. Lame Lame Lame!@!

    July 4, 2012 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  21. cardog

    Most of the earlier comments have said it all. Lets go back to the beginning in the state of Mass. Governor Mitt Romney signed into law what is now known as Romneycare. In that law is a mandate, now better known as a TAX? The President and his administration pretty much copied the Mass. law and called it's penalty a mandate, now defined by the Supreme Court as a TAX. The Repukes lost this "Sure Thng" and now want to make an issue of the President placing a TAX on Americans to cover the Affordable Care Act???
    I want to ask any and all cleear thinking Americans, why this is a problem or an issue?

    July 4, 2012 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  22. Lonni

    Looks like Romney got the message and his Spokesman, Fehrnstrom, will be looking for another job.

    July 4, 2012 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  23. Anonymous

    Romney needs to get rid of Eric Fehrnstrom–this is the second time Fehrnstrom has angered the GOP base, by stating things that Romney obviously doesn't agree with! You need to put a STOP to him, Mr. Romney, before he destroys your GOP base!

    July 4, 2012 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  24. maltytasker

    So, Romney claims that the mandate that he passed as governor of Mass. is not a tax, and he has said all along that it wasn't. His own spokesman admitted earlier that Romney didn't believe that the mandate in the ACA was a tax, until they apparently decided that it was in the best interests of his campaign to call it a tax. So, his mandate is not a tax, but Obama's mandate, which was modeled on Romney's, is, for some reason, a tax. Romney just lost what little credibility he had left. King of the flip-floppers.

    July 4, 2012 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  25. CS Madison

    Now if he could just explain why he was having a crooked banker host his $2500 a plate fundraiser in England.

    July 4, 2012 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
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