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. 1+1=2

    This takes a HUGE burden off of Romney. Since it was ruled a tax by Roberts, (the only one on the bench who thought so) Romney can renigh on his efforts to repeal it as a mandate by congress, yet still claim Obama raised taxes on every American( none of which is true). Ain't politics great??

    July 4, 2012 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  2. labman57

    Three fundamental differences between "Romneycare" and the ACA (aka "Obamamcare"):
    1) One was championed by a Republican, the other by a Democrat
    2) The ACA's mandate includes a component that is a tax, whereas Romneycare's mandate contains … something else.
    3) One begins with an "R", the other with an "O".

    July 4, 2012 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  3. james

    Can you believe this guy ? He says these things with a straight face.

    July 4, 2012 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  4. iHaveCancer

    Has anyone asked Romney how the people he laid off are paying for their health care?

    July 4, 2012 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  5. Anonymous

    Romney flip flops again. His age is showing.

    July 4, 2012 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  6. Chris Willett, Buffalo NY

    The individual mandate is a Republican proposal from the 1990s. Its entire point is to eliminate the free-rider problem by ensuring that everyone who uses the health care system has to pay for it one way or another. It is, in essence, anti-socialist. That the Republicans can now turn around and call it "socialist" just demonstrates how dishonest and fraudulent they really are. And given that Romney enacted the same plan while he was governor, he's little more than a hypocrite on this issue.

    July 4, 2012 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  7. lib

    Stop flip flopping Romney. Hey! Do you really want to be president Yes? No? What a joker. This guy is a real clown. Who would vote for him Oh yeah, the weak minded

    July 4, 2012 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  8. dontbow

    Its a tax and a penalty according to the obama admin's own admission. Lets all see how our taxes go up to pay for this mess that does nothing but make spending worse.

    July 4, 2012 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  9. BobR

    Why is this so hard for everyone to understand. Healthcare is NOT free. Someone has to pay the bills. The insurance companies are not the problem it's the doctors and hospitals sky high prices. Insurance prices are based on how much the group uses the insurance. Where does Romney think the money is going to come from.

    We are living longer so it takes more to keep us healthy. If we want to live longer we have to pay for it. The only way to control the cost is to keep healthcare costs down. We need to police the doctors and hospitals. If the insurance didn't get them to take lower costs healthcare would be even higher.

    I took early retirement at 59 and pay $1600 a month for me and the wife!! I am dipping into saving to pay this each month while the docs and hospitals continue to screw us. Let's all shift the blame where it belongs.

    July 4, 2012 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  10. oh ooooo! Oooops!

    What a moronic thing to say!! Romney just dug himself even deeper in the etch-a-sketch image

    If it is a tax and Romney extolled the virtues of the same healthcare in Massachusets, then he can't brag about CUTTING taxes in Mass. He like Obama favour raising MASSIVE taxes on the middle class. So, he didn't really MANAGE Mass any differently that what Obama is proposing in healthcare. But now, He looks like the Artful Dodger everytime he tries to explain his policies.


    July 4, 2012 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  11. ST

    Come on folks, tax (revenue) is the collection which a person pays in order to make the money circulate and it compulsory. When it comes to pay "PENALTY", no one is obliged to pay unless he/she goes against the law. In other words it is a "PUNISHMENT. Paying tax is never a punishment.

    July 4, 2012 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  12. Hogarth

    Everyone – literally everyone, on the right and the left – is getting it wrong. The Court said that the penalty applied to persons who have the money to afford health care but choose not to buy it is constitutional under the Congress' power to tax. It did not call the penalty a tax – it merely said that it was constitutional. And beyond this the Court most definitely did NOT call the ACA itself a "tax". This has been completely lifted out of context and misinterpreted.

    July 4, 2012 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  13. California

    The SCOTUS passed it based on it being a TAX. Just like a lib to be ignorant and leave out facts.

    July 4, 2012 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  14. Roberts Rule

    Robert and the Supreme Court upheld Obama care because it is a tax. Read the ruling. Its right there in black and white. If you don't believe that, CNN has also said its a tax and was upheld by the Supreme Court because its a tax. Let's face it, Obamacare is a tax increase. If it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck...

    July 4, 2012 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  15. lib

    It has been explained over and over and over by economist that even though it is a tax the tax would only affect people making a certain amount of income of a small percentage. I am inclined to believe that those who continue to make a big deal out of this negatively are only folks who don't like the president and have no intention of voting for him anyway and continue to look for anything to discredit his administration. We know who you all are.

    July 4, 2012 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  16. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Only those who can afford insurance and refuse to get it will be penalized with the tax.

    July 4, 2012 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  17. gee

    48 percent pay no fed tax. How many have insurance? It might be about time they share.

    July 4, 2012 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  18. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Since Mittens has declared ACA a tax, Romneycare is also a tax. I remember an elitist once saying, "If it sauce for the goose, it is sauce for the gander."

    July 4, 2012 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  19. CaliforniaBC

    And here we go again.. Romney flip flopping anf flipping again.

    1) Romney defends HIS Mass. health care law's mandate AS a tax, a free-rider tax.
    2) It's not a tax defending himself during the gop primaries
    3) Last week: "It's not a tax"
    4) AND TODAY he says it IS a tax AGAIN!!

    My god would the Democrats PLEASE hammer ROmney on ALL his flip-flopping....PLEASE< PLEASE!!

    He's the rubberstamp president grover norquist has been dreaming about for decades!

    July 4, 2012 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  20. Polli

    It doesn't take a brain surgeon, which you guys are apaprently commenting on this..., to be able to read the SC's ruling....
    Obama sucks....it's called "I am God" and the rest of the USA is dirt...go ahead, vote for this" God-diety, Better than THou, No America, Mexican Loving, Illegal Loving, Pro-African Regime, Pro No Borders, MAke Believe Head of the world, Nato and UN Butt Kissing Organ of the USA, we' well sell off AMERICAN kIDS FUTURES, with a smile President by name only Obama...'

    There is a huge difference..one is called reality checker, pro business goforth model while OBama ,"becaUSE I SAID SO"

    July 4, 2012 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  21. rs

    Poor Mr. Romney. His own party is denying their own Health Care Reform material (i.e. the "individual mandate"). First they claimed it to be unconstitutional (a lie naturally- why else would they have promoted it as dogma for 20 years and demanded its inclusion in the ACA?); now thay can't decide if it is a tax (as the Sureme Court ruled it), or a penalty as they once described it. Naturally they want to fight it as a tax (makes them shine in the eyes of uncle Grover Norquist), but if they have to accept it, they'll want it called a penalty lest they break their recorded pledges to the same Mr. Norquist on no taxes-EVER!.

    Meanwhile, Mr. Romney's one legislative success is one he has to bash to simply be a GOPper..

    Things are mighty wierd down GOP way when you have to celebrate your victories as defeats!

    July 4, 2012 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  22. They ought to change from the elephant to the hippo...

    It's a tax!! Candidate Mitt "Whip-saw" has spoken and said so. Tomorrow might be different, however...

    July 4, 2012 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  23. Ronald

    Ok, as expected mister flip flop does it yet again! First it is then it isn't! Go figure. So, I guess when he was gov. he levied a tax. Looks like the GOP candidate loves taxes and sending his money to the Cayman Islands.

    July 4, 2012 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  24. jake

    Stop being dumb and changing what the Supreme Court actually said. It is NOT a tax. What the SC said was that it could not be mandate under the commerce statutes, but can be under the taxing statutes. It is a penalty for those that with ability to purchase health care coverage do not purchase it. This would affect a very small number of people and not be a tax that all would pay as some of you and Republicans are saying.

    A little more honesty by politicians would go along way to trusting what they say on all things of interest to all Americans.

    July 4, 2012 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |

    Right wingnuts are stuck with Mitt(I have nothing to offer)McCain until August. August comes quickly.

    July 4, 2012 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
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