July 4th, 2012
01:06 PM ET
8 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. yamnnjr

    LOL, I like how they had to play music louder while that Republican was talking because they know how hearing what she says might make liberals realize the error of their blind love of Obama.

    Interesting how the most distracting Conservatives get is a single man who jumps the gun and accidentally speaks out of turn at what he thought was the end of a speech.

    But Liberals on the other hand will make all kinds of noise and ruckus in order to keep what Republicans says from even being heard. Fascinating how that is . . .

    July 4, 2012 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  2. Sagebrush Shorty

    When is a tax not a tax? When Obama says so.

    July 4, 2012 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  3. hermes96

    So I was right..all my parking tickets are really a tax..Next year I might deduct them as additional city taxes I paid as part of my business...

    July 4, 2012 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  4. joe

    The Other Dale, do you live on the other side of the mirror? Polls show that the majority hated obamacare. The Dems are in control now and have not produced jobs but lie to make the numbers sound good. The Tea Party wants small government not big government giving freedom back to the people. Many people are against the law if for no other reason than it is unconstitutional. Now its "constitutional" but a tax so it did not go through the proper channels to become law. Please don't vote until you become a free thinker.

    July 4, 2012 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |

    Mitt McCain broke lockstep if you listen to his adviser. The tax penalty is the same as all of the other tax penalties in the code. Right wingnuts lost twice to the best leader,our great President Obama. No more money from the insurance lobby will line their pockets.

    July 4, 2012 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  6. yamnnjr

    Well, Obama said that he wouldn't use taxes to pay for Obamacare, but Obama is going to use taxes to pay for Obamacare.

    Liberals are sooo easy to manipulate. Their leaders literally lie to their faces, and Liberals will still love them like they're the savior they've been waiting for. Talk about a people primed for an aspiring dictator.

    July 4, 2012 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  7. KM

    In the final analysis, it doesn't matter if it's a tax or not. Twenty-six states have already opted out of it. That leaves the other 24 to foot the bill. Wonder how long that will last? The short answer is that the watered down support of the law will render it not viable in the long run. The bill, in it's inception, was poorly contrived and rushed through a vote of both houses of Congress with little regard to the long term consequences of it. Any attempt to radically alter the method through which the US delivers health care to its citizens should be given more time and reflection than what is currently in place.

    July 4, 2012 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  8. Montanajau

    Romney's public acceptance of the court's opinion was not the flip-flop. He didn't say he agreed with the court; he simply used its ruling for his own purposes, public good be damned. From now until November he and his superpacs will accuse Obama of enacting a huge tax increase, even though almost no one will be required to pay it. That fact, of course, will never appear in a Romney ad. The flip-flop is his position against the penalty, which it is, even if it can be collected only by virtue of the federal government's power to tax.

    July 4, 2012 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  9. Name john

    The only way obamacare works is because of the mandate, it brings millions of more customers to the insurance company. Now think about who the majority of non insured people are? The poor, the unemployed, illegal immigrants, people who cant afford healthcare. These are going to be the large majority of the so called "new" customers for the insurance companies. Now who do you think is going to pay the premiums for all these new customers? The fed govt, and how are they going to pay for it? Raising taxes on middle class. Now before you go say tax the rich more, as democrats say to pay for every proposal, they calculated it, if warren buffet rule was in effect, it would only generate an additional 5 billion in revenue per year. That its only enough to pay the interest on the national debt for 11 hours. If that doesn't make you think I don't know what will.

    July 4, 2012 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  10. chris

    Why does Romney need to clarify this? the supreme court called it a tax.

    besides how else can you insure more people, and for longer, without reducing the actual costs of health care?!? you tax those that have it to pay for the new services.

    July 4, 2012 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  11. Debbie

    ~Romney signed into law a health reform measure with a similar mandate and fee when governor of Massachusetts.~

    You mean tax don't you?

    July 4, 2012 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  12. osa

    another etch d sketch moment by Mitt Romney. He really has no CORE

    July 4, 2012 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  13. Ms

    Well this should dispel the idea that Romney is a flip-flopper.

    July 4, 2012 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  14. Logic

    I love how the Supreme Court is the "final word" when it's something Republicans LIKE, like the "it's a tax" nomenclature. "Hey, far be it for ME to defy the words of the highest court in the land. They called it a tax!". But when it comes to the fact that they also ruled Obamacare to be CONSTITUTIONAL, ehhh...not so much. Where you at on that one Reps? CONSTITUTIONAL, says the high court. And since you so patriotically respect the high court's ruling, you will certainly now accept Obamacare as such, correct?

    July 4, 2012 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  15. Beadles

    Yammnr – what are you "yammerin" about? Former-governor Romney was at a meet and greet – a casual, noisy event. The wanna-be journalist interrupted the sitting PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES at a press briefing. Two totally different venues. Regardless of your feelings about President Obama – you respect the office. I served in the Navy during President Carter's time. Couldn't stand the man – consider him the most ineffective presidents of modern times. BUT, I respected him & the office of POTUS. As for the music that you are accusing CNN of playing louder was the music at Mr. Romney's event. You are a perfect example of the morons who have hijacked the GOP.

    July 4, 2012 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  16. once upon a horse

    Mitt should have come out as soon as his top aide "claimed" that the govenor agreed it was not a tax....but NO Romney waited a few days...let the RNC stumble abnd bumble all over themselves, probably took calls from Limbaugh and FoxNews and THEN decided on the 4th of July to comeout and flip/flop this. Does this guy take a stand on ANYTHING?? Obviously the answer to that is NO!

    July 4, 2012 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  17. Karm99

    Mitt Romney, his position on any subject changes like the shape of puffy clouds going by.

    The clouds look pretty, but there is no substance to them, just like Mitt.

    July 4, 2012 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  18. SugarKube

    If we voted on who disagreed with their VP / staff, Barry would have been out a long time ago.

    July 4, 2012 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  19. Pat in IL

    I'm still waiting for Romney to come up with ideas and platforms of his own instead of just spending his time putting spins on anything that a democrat might say or that goes to the side of democrats, whether it's good for the country or not. A two party system is only for the purpose of checks and balances and creativity.....not just for knocking the other guy.....and each is to work for the best interest of every American. I wish with all my heart that our politicians would behave this way, be more educated and discerning and really work for the betterment of America. I have the same pipe dream about the legal system. It's not just about "winning". It's about true justice and making the right things happen.

    July 4, 2012 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  20. Don Beal

    Let me see if I can keep this straight. It's hard to tell with Mitt Romney. He doesn't think it's a tax, but if the Supreme Court says it is, then it is. It's always nice to have it both ways. It's not a tax. No, it is a tax. No it's not. Yes, it is. Mitt Romney must keep a copy of Alice in Wonderland in his pocket to help himself figure things out.

    July 4, 2012 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  21. ST

    By going through all these comments, anyone who will vote for Romney, should have it in mind to get whatever this man will come with. I do not know whether it is only me, BUT this man has no core. His twisting and turns is too much that any good thinker can not try to give him the last chance. It is very, very annoying but he is the choice of the other side. Let them deal with it!

    July 4, 2012 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  22. Sirned

    It's a tax if Democrats do it. It's a mandate or fee if Republicans do it....lol. Like it really matters. If you are a freeloader and can afford healthcare your days living off other peoples primiums are over...

    July 4, 2012 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  23. valwayne

    This was a pretty important subject for the Romney campaign not to have a well coordinated response, especially before sending a Senior Advisor out on national TV to sound like a fool! Obama, The Amateur, as Bill Clinton calls him has been such a disaster for our nation I truly hope Gov Romney has a group of sharp, savvy, expert, nationally experienced political advisors, and not just a bunch of friends who have been with him a long time. Our nation will never recover from 4 more years of Obama, and his failed Presidency!

    July 4, 2012 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  24. JS

    According to Mr. Romney, it wasn't a tax, then it was a tax, then it wasn't a tax.

    Someone PLEASE ask him to make up his mind!

    July 4, 2012 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  25. vic , nashville ,tn

    Help Him he couldn’t reset his etch sketch

    July 4, 2012 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
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