Contradicting his own top campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, Mitt Romney on Wednesday declared that the individual mandate contained in President Barack Obama’s health care law is, indeed, a tax and not a penalty against those who refuse to buy coverage.
Romney’s comments, made in a hastily arranged interview with CBS News on July 4, prompted renewed criticisms that he was willing to adjust his views for political expediency, writes The New York Times.
“I said that I agree with the [Supreme Court’]s dissent, and the dissent made it very clear that they felt [the individual mandate] was unconstitutional,” Romney said in a released clip of a CBS News interview.
“But the dissent lost. It’s in the minority. And now the Supreme Court has spoken. And while I agree with the dissent, that’s taken over by the fact that the majority of the court said it’s a tax, and therefore, it is a tax.”
“The Supreme Court is the highest court in the nation, and it said that it’s a tax, so it’s a tax,” Romney told CBS News. “They have spoken. There’s no way around that.”
According to The Huff Post, the Romney’s remarks are a complete shift from those made by two top advisers to the Romney campaign in recent days.
Two days ago his spokesperson Andrea Saul aid that the governor “thinks [the mandate] is an unconstitutional penalty,” not a tax.
And Romney’s top aide Eric Ferhnstrom, that same day, emphatically declared that the campaign did not believe the mandate was a tax.
“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,” Fehrnstrom said in a Monday interview with MSNBC’s “The Daily Rundown.”
The Obama campaign responded t0 Romney’s words, calling it a glaring contradiction of his chief spokesman’s remarks.
“First, he threw his top aide Eric Fehrnstrom under the bus by changing his campaign’s position,” the campaign said. “Second, he contradicted himself by saying his own Massachusetts mandate wasn’t a tax.”
The high court upheld the Obama healthcare law by a 5-4 margin last week, with Justice Antonin Scalia expressing the losing position — that the law was unconstitutional — in a scathing dissent, reports Los Angeles Times.
The backlash that erupted on Wednesday became a reminder of how problematic the issue of health care reform is for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
As governor of Massachusetts, Romney oversaw the 2007 fulfillment of a first-in-the-nation plan requiring that nearly every state resident obtain health insurance or pay a penalty if they failed to do so.
In his remarks on Wednesday, Romney drew a distinction between a similar provision that he put in place in Massachusetts and the Obama mandate. Both laws require people who don’t have health insurance to buy it or face a penalty.
States, Romney said, “have the power to put in place mandates. They don’t need to require them to be called taxes in order for them to be constitutional.”