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. rob

    Don't worry, Romney will flip-flop tomorrow.

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

    Mitt Romney is a simple bull___er. I really don't think anything else needs to be said about the man. (P.S. The word "fight" doesn't go in that blank.)

    July 4, 2012 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  3. citizenmn

    I love watching Mittens run against the same program he promoted and signed into law in MA.

    July 4, 2012 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  4. WatchDawg

    WOW...this Romney Flip-Flop took longer than usual...we will blame it on the power outages affecting the Northeast...

    July 4, 2012 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  5. Pure


    Your parking tickets are not a tax or even remotely close to the health care tax we now will have. You don't have a choice to pay taxes and you don't have to do anything to get taxed. Parking tickets while you have to pay them eventually are a choice to get, ie. you can pay the meter, not drive a car, pay monthly parking in a garage

    July 4, 2012 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  6. StopDividing

    Subligation is a way of life for dems, Kneel and praise their messiah oblunder.

    July 4, 2012 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  7. GonzoinHouston

    You realize, of course, that when Obama is no longer President, hopefully not before 2016, that all the opposition to the ACA will dwindle and fade to nothing. The professional politicos oppose ACA because Obama passed it. The rest of you are just believing whatever fits with your preconceived notions.

    July 4, 2012 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  8. Sirned

    Doesn't a tax usually get levied on everyone? How can this be considered a tax when only those that can afford healthcare and don't get it get fined or taxed. I see a lot of misinformation from the right again....

    July 4, 2012 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  9. SC

    Romney's accusations are classical BS @ its best. When you implemented Romneycare in MA, you did not consider that as a tax hike and instead you even recently claimed that you lowered the tax when you were the governor. This guy is the purest BS I've ever seen.

    July 4, 2012 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  10. Chuckie52

    I think the Health Care Law could have – and should have been made more simple with a little more bi-partisanship. Unfortunately, it wasn't. It is what it is. So, call it a tax or a penalty – who cares? What matters is that the insurance mandate is a cost each person will pay only if they choose to be a "freeloader" to Health Care services they will receive at some point in their lives. Without it; we know everyone else will be taxed in the form of higher premiums to cover the freeloaders under any form of a Health Care Law.

    July 4, 2012 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  11. CTYankee

    Obomneycare is not a tax......shake that etch a sketch.......Obomneycare is a tax........shake shake shake...Obama raised your taxes.

    What a sham Mr Romney is. No core beliefs except his desire to be President. No thank you.

    July 4, 2012 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  12. Martin

    Mitt Romney throws his senior advisor under the bus. Wow, but not totally unexpected.

    July 4, 2012 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  13. Sam

    This foot... this mouth... you know what's next...

    July 4, 2012 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  14. Bren

    It is going to be rough for Obama/Democrats to campaign/run on a huge tax-–the largest tax in the history of our country through Obamacare--and expect to win!!! Voters will be reminded of this TAX until election day!! That is why there are now so many Democrats hiding from Obama, saying that they are not endorsing Obama, and saying that they will not attend the Democratic National Convention. You can run liberal Democrats, but you cannot hide--Obama, Obamacare, Obama's tax through Obamacare, Fast and Furious, amnesty for millions of illegals--all belong to you!!

    July 4, 2012 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  15. Ron

    If I have to buy PRIVATE insurance, by government mandate, it is still not a tax, in my book because I am not buying anything from the government. I am buying something from a business. Apparently, if I refuse to buy insurance, the government intends to charge me a penalty. I suppose you could argue that, that, is a tax. But they are only charging it to people that don't want to be forced to buy insurance, which does not strike me as remotely fair. All this has done, is to give the salivating insurance companies 30+ million new customers. Keeping costs down? Don't make me laugh. I can see the premium increases coming already. I actually LIKE Obama, and think this alarming mess should be shot down!

    July 4, 2012 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  16. Joan Wheeler

    This is NOT a tax. It is a penalty that will be charged to those who wish to freeload on the rest of us. Who will pay for those now healthy people in 40 years when they have a stroke or heart-attack? Don't ask me to pay. I have enough problems paying for my own insurance and any uncovered medical expenses. Republicans in Congress and the Senate already get their medical expenses paid through the government (us), and the wealthy 1% can afford to pay for their own insurance, so why should they care about the rest of us? People - wake up! You're being scammed, robbed and gang-raped!!!!

    July 4, 2012 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  17. Anonymous

    Does this "nitwit" even know who he is?? I'm beginning to think he really is brain damaged!!

    July 4, 2012 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  18. be

    So I can get a fine and even jail time for not having insurance on my car, but I can go scott-free for not having insurance on myself? That does not seem to make sense. I can hear the conservatives already saying, but it's my own body!!!!! Right, but we in the hospitals have to take care of that sorry body for free when you choose to exercise your "right" not to have insurance.

    July 4, 2012 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  19. Tom Legare

    Does this guy even know who he is? I think he reaLLY IS BRAIN DAMAGED!

    July 4, 2012 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  20. David

    This should be fun. GOP supporters, how many votes does it take to bring up legislation for debate in the Senate? So...how are you going to "repeal" this if you don't have the votes to move the legislation to debate?

    July 4, 2012 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  21. Put honesty in the White House.

    Mitt Romney in November.

    July 4, 2012 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  22. RLC

    I really do not care what Romney has to say against ObamaCare. It is after all his own plan that he was touting a few years ago. He was speaking about the exact same points on camera for years. Hence, he is only bashing himself. Further I'm positive that we do not know everything that is in the Affordable Healthcare Law. I'm sure there is information in there about how those who cannot afford can pay this "tax". Besides, I'd like to see how the government is supposed to collect this "tax". No one ever said that this was perfect. Like many other laws, this would have to be tweaked and adjusted over time. Let's see anyone leave the country now to get away from this health care law only to go to a country that has health care for all.

    July 4, 2012 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  23. Joan Wheeler

    If republicans try to overturn the Courts decision on AHC, democrats should put everything they have into overturning the dreadful Citizen's United decision, which has handed control of this country to the wealthy 1%. How will we ever overcome this disaster???

    July 4, 2012 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  24. Ron

    Still amazed that so many on the right (thing all of them) didn't even suspect it was a tax until the court told them that it was. Now they are all screaming like a gut shot Apache. Go figure.

    July 4, 2012 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  25. Donald in CA

    Yea, mitt throws his own main guy under the train in order to do his famous flip/flop. Mitt needs a third leg so that he can kick his own self in the butt.

    July 4, 2012 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
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