Romney Calls Health-Care Mandate Tax Rather Than Penalty

Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney
U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney addresses a campaign rally at Cornwall Iron Furnace in Cornwall, Pennsylvania. Photographer: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Republican Mitt Romney said that requiring Americans to obtain health insurance is a tax, breaking with previous descriptions of President Barack Obama’s mandate by his campaign and aligning with his party’s message.

“The fact that the majority of the court said it’s a tax and, therefore, it is a tax,” Romney said in an interview aired by CBS News today. “You can try and say you wish they had decided a different way, but they didn’t.”

Romney’s comments marked a shift for his campaign, sparking criticism that he had changed his views for political gain. Senior campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said on July 2 that Romney didn’t view the mandate as a tax, contradicting the message of Republican congressional leaders on the issue.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that the federal requirement to obtain health insurance or pay a fee -- included in the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act pushed by Obama -- is constitutional because it can be considered a tax. Party officials and leaders in Congress jumped on the June 28 decision to mount a fresh attack on Obama, charging the president with imposing a new tax on middle-class Americans.

Romney and Mandate

A similar requirement to buy insurance was part of a state health-care law Romney enacted as governor of Massachusetts.

However, Romney insisted in the CBS interview that the Supreme Court’s ruling didn’t mean he had raised taxes as governor. He said the opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts said that states have the power to constitutionally mandate purchases using government mechanisms other than taxes.

“States have the power to put in place mandates,” Romney said. “They don’t need to require them to be called taxes in order for them to be constitutional,” he said. “As a result, Massachusetts’ mandate was a mandate, was a penalty, was described that way by the legislature and by me.”

The change in position within the campaign illustrates the political challenge Romney faces on health care.

Fehrnstrom, in an interview on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown,” had said: “The governor disagreed with the ruling of the court. He agreed with the dissent written by Justice Scalia which very clearly stated that the mandate was not a tax.”

“The governor does not believe the mandate is a tax?” host Chuck Todd asked. “That is what you’re saying?”

’A Penalty’

“The governor believes that what we put in place in Massachusetts was a penalty and he disagrees with the court’s ruling that the mandate was a tax,” the Romney adviser said.

The Obama campaign seized today on Romney’s own remarks, using the interview to brand its opponent as a flip-flopper.

“Mitt: Fed freerider penalty is ‘‘tax,’’ identical MA law is not. If he were in WH, parsley would be official veg: Twister, national pastime,” senior Obama adviser David Axelrod wrote in a Twitter message.

Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters today that Romney spent “years” defending the mandate included in his Massachusetts plan as a penalty, not a tax.

“It is clear that he is being impacted by the push from the right, the Rush Limbaughs of the world, congressional Republicans, pushing him to go back on a decision and a defense that he’s had in place for years,” she said

Emphasizing his disagreement with the court’s 5-4 decision, Romney also said in the interview that Roberts “took a departure” from sound reasoning.

“It gives the impression that the decision was made not based upon a constitutional foundation but instead a political consideration about the relationship between the branches of government,” Romney said.

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