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. Beadles

    Harry Baxter – I'm sorry if my position came across as not compassionate. But, did you read my entire post? I'm all for people receiving health care, for not being penalized for pre-existing conditions. What I'm against are those (who are numerous) who have a skewed sense of priorities. There are far too many people in this country who claim they can't afford health insurance – but they can.

    July 4, 2012 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  2. Jack

    Is RomneyCare a tax also?

    July 4, 2012 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  3. NamelAy

    Wow!he must have gotten hammered by republicans to change stance or spin it

    July 4, 2012 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  4. fp737

    Come on, Mitt, quit splitting hairs and acting like a typical policitian! If it walks and quacks like a duck.......

    Ron Paul 2012 – write in if necessary

    July 4, 2012 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  5. California

    Donkey Party – Your posts is a typical hate fulled response from the liberal parasites in this country. You have nothing to debate. You have nothing period.

    July 4, 2012 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  6. Skeptic

    Romney is a flip-flop.

    July 4, 2012 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  7. Peace

    I have to say GOP you have chosen the wrong messenger. Ann Coulter was quite right, you didn't choose Christ Christie and you are going to lose. Romney is not the right person to carry your message. Santorum said, Gingrich said, Rick Perry said. What they said is now coming to the limelight. WRONG MESSENGER, WRONG CHOICE!

    July 4, 2012 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  8. ThinkAgain

    The Supreme Court DID NOT call the assessed fee a "tax!" This is just another GOP lie (hey, all they've got is lies; Lord knows they don't have a record of accomplishment to run on and all their economic, military and foreign policies are PROVEN FAILURES).

    Read for yourself, from page 1 of the ruling:

    "Beginning in 2014, those who do not comply with the mandate must make a "[s]hared responsibility payment" to the Federal Government.. The Act provides that this "penalty" will be paid to the Internal Revenue Service with an individual's taxes, and "shall be assessed and collected in the same manner" as tax penalties.

    The IRS will collect it, but unlike if you refuse to pay your taxes, the IRS, while tasked with collecting the penalty, can’t throw you in jail or put a lien on your home or other property.

    This is how it works: If you are supposed to get a refund on your taxes and you owe the penalty, the IRS will deduct the amount you owe from your refund. If you owe anything further, it will be on the books as an obligation that the IRS will collect in the future (for example, by deducting it from future tax refunds).

    Get it?

    BTW, even if these jerks refuse to carry health insurance and let the bill for the penalty languish on the IRS' books, if they go to the ER, they will still get treated, including being provided life-saving services.

    What's ironic is so many of these jerks love to yammer on about "personal responsibility" ...

    July 4, 2012 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  9. California

    Liberals will continue their parasitic push to destroy this country from the inside out. They don't even know what the difference between legal and illegal is.

    July 4, 2012 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  10. coloradobird

    Oh, for Pete's sake! How in the world can anyone be so stoopid AND two-faced and still think he should be President of the United States?
    LMAO, loving the comments, but so many stupid people who think Romney is going to create jobs??? The people of midwest are scaring me~

    July 4, 2012 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  11. ThinkAgain

    @California: "The only, ONLY way it passed through the SC was that it was in fact a tax. IF democrats want to continue to either be ignorant of the facts then they're saying it was passed through the SC UNLAWFULLY."

    Wow, you really take the cake when it comes to ignorance! How do you manage to get dressed in the morning?

    July 4, 2012 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  12. racegirl1

    Nice try CNN he didn't just contradict his own aide he contradicted himself. This want to be president flip flops more than a fish when he gets out of water.

    Willard the no backbone, don't stand for anything, position himself with the highest donator until the next higher donator comes along, off shore accounts, investing in firms who destroy human fetuses, had the hard drives from his administration disposed of (who knows what was on them) this man probably has more skeletons in his closet than we have bodies in Arlington want to run this country. You will actually vote for Willard the which ever the wind blows no back bone no morals candidate and watch this country be driving into the ground. Don't be surprised if he put out national parks, monuments etc. up for sale to the highest bidder. Being President to Willard is just another position he wants to hold, like a promotion in his company. If that phone rings at 3 in the morning old Willard will have to flip a coin to see what decision he should make.

    Yeah Willard, ALL the decisions of this country will rest on the shoulders you don't have.

    July 4, 2012 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  13. Etch-A-Sketch Mitt RobMe Say_Nothing -Do_Nothing_Flip_n_Flopper VULTURE CAPITALIST

    America please wake me up when Etch-A-Sketch Mitt RobMe makes up his mind...because his constant FLIP FLOPS is making me dizzy; even my republican friends can't stand him anymore!!!!

    It's sad when you have a candidate who just wanna be president for the heck of it...no plans on how to fix anything; just campaign speeches to attack the other guy. This IDIOT mitt robme cannot be trusted!!!

    July 4, 2012 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  14. oh ooooo! Oooops!

    ROMNEY is soooo phony. Now the contrast is really clear. They say experience is the greatest teacher. From experience, a person with this much ABOUT TURNS on basic convictions is DANGEROUSLY out of touch with himself and can not be trusted to really care about anyone else.

    What a LEADER BELIEVES MATTERS...for sure. ROMNEY'S BELIEFS ARE LIKE THE SKIN ON A CHAMELEON. He will wear a belief to achieve is ambitions. This is not good policy for a country.

    July 4, 2012 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  15. joe

    flip flop flip flop

    July 4, 2012 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  16. olga79

    So the GOP is going crazy about taxing the 1% who can afford insurance but prefers to go to the hospital when they need it at our cost??? That's why hospitals jack up their price & why our premiums are high because of this people. Ya they should be tax, penalized or whatever you call it. Aren't we putting a high tax on cigarettes for a reason?

    July 4, 2012 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  17. oilman

    Lies & Cover-Up Holder / Obama........ Crooks

    July 4, 2012 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  18. Anonymous

    he had to check with his bosses in the Tea Party and Rush. Romney is totally unable to decide for himself..how pathetic a leader is this!

    July 4, 2012 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  19. lgny

    Republicans are the only ones who care whether this is a tax or not.

    They've been so twisted by Grover Norquist that "TAX" has become a four-letter word. They foolishly think that by calling it a tax, it will be instantly denounced by the entire nation. without bothering to look at who pays and what people obtain in return.

    July 4, 2012 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  20. ThinkAgain

    @Thomas: "I think most get hot and bothered because they don't understand it and they scream SOCIALISM."

    I agree. Here's my handy list of "socialist" programs I'd like to see these right wingers choose to do without:

    All branches of the military
    Water treatment plants and water systems
    Internet (created using federally-funded basic research dollars)
    Highway system
    Dams (for example, Hoover Dam)
    Hydroelectric plants (like Bonneville)
    National parks
    State parks
    Public schools and universities
    Space programs (myriad technological breakthroughs because of it)
    Rural electrification
    Roads and bridges
    Social Security

    Shall I go on? To all those who scream "socialism," please start putting your money where your mouths are and stop using the above. Thanks!

    Obama/Biden 2012 = The only sane choice.

    July 4, 2012 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  21. sbssue1

    MollyBee.................????? I think any more tax is a penalty, and yes I am for Romney. I like Obama as a person, but certainly not a leader of our country. We are getting taxed, fined, penalized and no jobs to boot.

    July 4, 2012 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  22. newtonslaw

    Rumknees spokesman first said it was not a tax, now it is a tax. Then they said it was a candy mint, now it's a breath mint, then they said they couldn't see the forest but they could see the tree? What we have here is a "failure to communicate" but sooner or later you can bet they will say "We didn't say anything of the sort", in fact that was whatshisnmame talking about the tyhingamajig that we saw at the whatchacallit the other night. So there!

    July 4, 2012 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  23. Onceagain

    Once again the GOP Right hand doesnt know what the GOP left hand is doing. And they really think they can get us out of the mess they (GOP Reagan, Bush 1 and Bush 2) got us into? All the GOP does is lie. For that fact all politicians lie but the GOP takes the cake. Google "National debt" for the facts.

    July 4, 2012 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  24. nolongerarepublican

    The Supreme court ruling was based on the determination that the healthcare mandate was in fact a tax.
    So, Romney agrees with the Supreme Court decision, but is running around trashing it?
    Now that's funny, in a brainless type of way.
    Romney must have dementia.

    July 4, 2012 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  25. Chazz

    Who cares if it's a Tax or Not a Tax. Frankly I could give a hoot! Lets see how many of the Tea Partied Repubs will (1) enroll their kids their 26 year old and under kids on their insurance, and (2) will secure insurance for themselves and their family members with pre-existing conditions. The uninsured and the needy now have a path to quality care.

    July 4, 2012 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
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