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. timothy

    This way he can be whatever his number 1 guy shakes up and Etch-a-Sketches.

    July 4, 2012 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  2. caesarbc

    Why has no one raised the point that if Roberts' deciding 5-4 vote depends on the program being a tax... and Obama himself denies it asa tax... then can someone explain to me why this isn't a 5-4 decision against Obamacare?

    July 4, 2012 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  3. mm

    Only proves that Romney has a public record of raising massive "taxes" in Mass. then.

    This guy can't win for losing. Why is the GOP even running him?

    July 4, 2012 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  4. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Once again, the only people who will have to pay the penalty (tax) are the republican deadbeats and freeloaders who show up at emergency rooms with no insurance, and then the cost was passed on to those of us who have health insurance. If you can afford insurance, you should have it.

    July 4, 2012 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  5. v2787

    Romney should be proud to pay taxes, and to pay his fair share. It says volumes that Mr. Romney (14% overall tax rate) hides his hundreds of millions of dollars in off-shore and Swiss bank accounts. Beware, voters–this man will not be good for America.

    July 4, 2012 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  6. Gurgyl

    It is a PENALITY not a tax. I do not care this Bain capital.

    July 4, 2012 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  7. CRAIG

    Romney is very confused. Really now, tax, penalty, fee ? Whatever it is, the health mandate is the start of something great for America & it took a President with real guts to get it started. Of course, a lot has to be ironed out & additional items added but as it was with the inception of social security & medicare, it will take a little time but at least we're on the right track.

    July 4, 2012 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  8. mctampa

    So that is what Romney says today, lets see what he says next week! oh I forgot, he already said it was not a tax in Mass even though it is the exact same thing...etch a sketch moment, one of many to come.

    July 4, 2012 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  9. TAK

    All this affordable health care act talk became moot last week. I consider further discussions to be a waste of my time. This is not a campaign issue. Let's move on to real issues, huh?

    July 4, 2012 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  10. California

    FACT: Democrats only care about getting their hands on YOUR money.

    Freedom died a little more with this ruling.

    July 4, 2012 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  11. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    As for tax increases, rest assured that the tax increases under Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush were far greater.

    July 4, 2012 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  12. hjs3

    Silly debate.....4 million people are projected to be subject to the "penalty" aka GOP's tax of $95.00 for not picking up h/c insurance....Of course since most of these people won't be paying taxes anyway, I'm kinda interested to see just how successful the IRS is at collecting these monies.....LOL

    July 4, 2012 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  13. Ex-GOP Con

    If that is the case then Rich Money raised taxes on the people of Massachusetts. He's your stereotypical politician who say whatever and do whatever to get elected. NO THANKS!

    July 4, 2012 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  14. GonzoinHouston

    A mandate? A tax? A penalty? A fee? Who cares? What earthly difference does the name make? It is what it is, and what it is is pretty much the same thing Romney campaigned for and signed into law. It's also pretty much the same idea that was first proposed by the Heritage Club and widely supported among leading Republicans. If it didn't have Obama's name on it they would have voted for it. Have you noticed that when polls ask people about the individual components of the law they are all in favor, but when you ask them about Obamacare they are suddenly opposed. 100% of the outrage and opposition is just opposition to President Obama. Whether they hate him for being black, a democrat, or representing the repudiation of the W regime is irrelevant. Their total political opposition is proven to be more important to them than healthcare for America. This is truly disgraceful.

    July 4, 2012 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  15. ssrx8

    Yep, a little pressure from the GOP establishment and he changes his mind like that. We definitely won't be calling him "the decider" if he is elected.

    July 4, 2012 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  16. Flossy

    Flipppppppp Flopper.... And I cannot WAIT to see him try and wiggle his way out of this one during a debate LOL!

    July 4, 2012 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  17. Mike

    He would have been much better off sticking to one opinion on the matter; regardless of whether it was for being a tax or not.

    His flip-flopping, contradictory and hypocritical statements are hurting his chances in the general and the enthusiasm for his base.

    It is a tax; not an annual tax of course but if you do not have insurance you are being denied the opportunity to completely freeload off society and you are essentially paying for insurance via the once a year tax. Romneycare's mandate is a tax in the same way.

    I'll be interested in how that plays out when he is asked why he "raised taxes", as he would say, in MA.

    July 4, 2012 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  18. swodog6289

    Whether you call it a tax or penalty doesn't matter. This is a bad law for the country and especially the middle class. This law ushers in the largest entitlement program in history (unfunded) and if you don't think your taxes are going to go up, you are fooling yourself. In 5 years it will be 180 degree change in opinion on this one.

    July 4, 2012 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  19. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    I don't have a $9 million home on a lake, or a house with car elevators, but I am proud to be an American, glad that I pay my fair share in taxes, and I am enjoying life to its fullest. I think the only thing on Mittens' mind is making more money, and paying less in taxes. He is not very bright and does not appear to be very happy.

    July 4, 2012 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  20. steven harnack

    Anyone who can't see through this charade doesn't deserve to vote. The Republicans are stumbling all over themselves trying to spin this three ways at the same time. Yeah, it's a tax like the late book tax that your library hits you with when you don't return you books on time, it's like the late rent tax that I have to pay if my rent isn't paid by the 5th of the month. I guess that I could pay that late rent tax every month, if I was NOT smart enough to pay my rent by the 5th.

    July 4, 2012 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  21. kenny

    Romney once again shows how much he and the fish I throw in the bottom of my boat have in common. They both lay out there flipping and flopping around. He first says the Superme Court got it wrong and that the AHCA penalty was not a tax but instead it is a penalty. Now after a flip flop he says it is a tax. He is beginning to look more and more like what Grover Norquest said Republicans needed in the WH. They need a person with 5 digits to sign the bills they want signed and to do as they say. In other words, they have found their 'YES MAN" in Mitt Romney. I think he needs to go back into his "Mittness Protection Program" at Bain Capitol.

    July 4, 2012 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  22. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Due to the supreme court ruling, I am no longer responsible for pay for irresponsible uninsured republicans who show up at the emergency room. Free at last, free at last!

    July 4, 2012 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  23. PoliticallySmarterThanMost

    you guys are dumb if you are reading this and thinking Romney is stupid. He agrees because he has to. The law said it was a tax! Of course he fundamentally disagrees with what was ruled, he believes it shouldn't exist so the tax shouldn't be there but the Supreme Court ruled it was. You people need to get off of your ONE SIDED NEWS!

    July 4, 2012 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  24. Judy

    Car insurance, house insurance, mortgage insurance............Those payments are all deemed to be acceptable. But people have a problem with health insurance? I don't get it!

    July 4, 2012 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  25. Wally

    Mitt contradicted his own top aide, we will have to wait till tomorrow to hear Mitt contradict himself...

    July 4, 2012 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
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