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. Beadles

    I don't care what they call it – I'm just glad that the freeloaders are getting cut off the dole. For those of you who don't understand this basic fact – you are already paying for other people's healthcare. I don't like it either. I don't like being 3 years post-cancer treatment and still paying off bills – even tho' I had insurance. But, my care cost 3 times what it should have. BECAUSE hospitals do not absorb the cost of caring for the uninsured. They pass those costs along by raising the fees for all their services. The year after my cancer treatment, my husband was laid off. Fortunately he found another job that includes health insurance. If he hadn't – I'd be denied cancer coverage for a pre-existing condition. I'm thrilled with most (if not all) of the AHCA. So STOP with the complaining until you've researched what you think the act means. Here's a good start: http://www.reddit.com/tb/vbkfm.

    July 4, 2012 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  2. snowdogg

    Why, how could Mitt possibly be confused? Whatever he says is correct in all content and intent.

    July 4, 2012 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  3. Martin

    This man keeps criticizing policies without coming up with any ideas of his own, other than to throw out what's already been done.

    Personally, if I go to my boss and say "this isn't working we need to get rid of it" the first thing they'll ask me is "okay, how do you plan on fixing it", and will THEN start to pay attention if I have a good idea to make it better.

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

    @osa – you're really going to play that card? Obama just got busted on the biggest flop of his tenure.

    July 4, 2012 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  5. Vote the Tea Party OUT in 2012

    it is only a tax when Obama says it is NOT, Mitt can decide depending on what the polls say if it's a tax or not. As POTUS I can not see this guy taking a firm stand on anything unless his far right base agrees with it. PATHETIC!

    July 4, 2012 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  6. Dino

    Obama's campaign people can't even get their stories straight about romney and the tax. Did he think it was a tax or not??? With these flip flop morons running his campaign, obama should win reelection easily in november.

    July 4, 2012 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  7. Myviewis

    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."
    Okay CNN why don’t you want me to say that Romneycare is a Penalty not a tax, Supreme Court ruled on Obamacare not Romneycare which is why I said Obamacare is a Knock-Off of Romneycare and that President Obama took a good recipe (Romneycare) and messed it up when Obama made changes to it in trying to come up with his own recipe. Get it?????? it's simple

    July 4, 2012 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  8. JM

    His speech bobs along with his head.

    July 4, 2012 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  9. James

    Why do Americans get all hot and bothered by this issue. Can you not all see that universal healthcare should be a basic human right. Governments have to collect taxes to pay for healthcare, education, roads, policing, defence etc. Look at Greece, where a large percentage of the population do not pay their share of taxes and see what is happening there. You are in this predicament because you have allowed big business to control what should have been a basic human right controlled guaranteed through your taxes.

    July 4, 2012 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  10. bcrunner

    Just once, I would like to hear Romney stick to something and defend it. Just once. I have not heard anything from him that he has not flip flopped on!! Why would I want to vote for a man like that? Can you imagine him meeting with foreign ministers and then flip flopping left and right? We will look like such fools!! I sure don't want him representing me!!

    July 4, 2012 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  11. Myviewis


    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....

    Because the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare, the Supreme Court said it is a tax.

    July 4, 2012 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  12. Bren

    Do not forget about some of the other Obamacare taxes...–This includes the tax on our military and their families-–who will be taxed due to having "cadillac" health care plans!! Most reports are indicating that this "tax" for "cadillac" health care plans may be as high as 40%!!

    July 4, 2012 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  13. Randyman

    No sally, it puts more freeloaders on the dole. Medicaid with double by adding those freeloaders to its roles and illegals will still be using the ERs. Businesses will drop coverage and pay the fine and the now we all can stand in the same line awaiting sub-par treatment ffrom nurses, not Drs.

    July 4, 2012 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  14. Bill in Florida

    LMAO! The Romney camp can't even be consistent for 24 hours! So if the penalty in "Obamacare" is a tax, then that means that Mitt raised taxes on Massachusetts residents who pay the penalty in "Romneycare," right?

    July 4, 2012 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  15. Name

    So let's get this straight- Romney agrees that the mandate is a tax because the Supreme Court says so but he disagrees with them upholding the ACA. He's a very confused man especially when he was so adamant about the individual mandate when he was governor! This man is a puppet for the tea partiers and the ones funding his campaign! How pathetic!

    July 4, 2012 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  16. Myviewis

    Here's the best, Obama, Democrats know the Supreme Court upheld the Obamacare and said it is a Tax, the very court that Obama and Democrats wanted to uphold Obamacare. Now that that Supreme Court called it a Tax now Obama and Democrats are ignoring that same Supreme Court ruling and they continue to convince voters it is a Penalty. Obama the president and Democrats are presenting us a different outcome of the Supreme Court ruling. Talk about trying to manipulate even the Supreme Court ruling because they didn't like it!!!!!

    July 4, 2012 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  17. Etch-A-Sketch Mitt RobMe Say_Nothing -Do_Nothing_Flip_n_Flopper VULTURE CAPITALIST

    Just let the GOP Teabaggers self destruct....it's a TAX, it's NOT a TAX!!!!

    July 4, 2012 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  18. trashcup

    Romney's latest version of the way he pictures America. What's it going to be tomorrow? Romneycare IS Obamacare. So what? At least Obama did something about health care instead of what the republican Congress has been doing for the past two years, which is absolutely NOTHING.

    July 4, 2012 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  19. sarge

    Why can't he make up his mind ? Or is this another flip flop tactic...say it is, then say it isn't..then say that's what I said!

    July 4, 2012 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  20. Joanie

    Oh bull pucky...he is so full of crap...of course it is a penality for those who refuse to buy insurance and when they get sick then WE have to pay for it by our insurance payments keep going up...now if they don't get insurance they will get a PENALITY not a TAX....Romney keeps changing his words ...he is like a yoyo when he speaks...unbelievable anyone in their right mind would think he would be a good President...HE AND THE REPUBLICANS WOULD DESTROY what America is all about...they are out for the RICH and MORE GUNS...please, Republicans, listen to other radio stations like Limbaugh or Fox...you are being lied to big time.

    July 4, 2012 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  21. Sue

    It is going to be interesting to see how many Democrats join with the Republicans to vote against Obamacare next week. The Democrats know that there will be a huge, bright, spot light on them during this vote, just to see what they do. Soon, you will have Democrats trying to run on the same platforms as Republicans--against Obama, Obamacare, Fast and Furious, amnesty for millions of illegals, gay marriage, etc. Oh, wait a minute-Democrats are already saying and running on these platforms!!!

    July 4, 2012 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  22. jane

    Romney just grow a pair and stand for SOMETHING!!!

    July 4, 2012 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  23. bob

    SCOTUS says it's a tax.

    the entire ruling for justifying obamacare's existence is that it is a tax.

    what bunk from cnn.

    July 4, 2012 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  24. The Film Professor

    So now Romney has said that Romneycare is a tax, and that is why people should vote for him. OK, then.

    July 4, 2012 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  25. two12er

    a tax – just like every single politician is a tax too that we could live without. once that tax is rectified, i think we can discuss whether healthcare is an appropriate tax or not.

    July 4, 2012 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
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