Romney Calls Health Care Mandate A 'Tax,' Contradicts Top Aide

By: CNN Posted By Doug Brown
By: CNN Posted By Doug Brown

(CNN) - Mitt Romney said the health care reform mandate constitutes a "tax" Wednesday, contradicting the way a senior adviser to his campaign characterized his position earlier this week.

"Supreme Court is the final word, right?" Romney told CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash and CNN Producer Shawna Shepherd. "Isn't that the highest court in the land? And 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 matter in a CBS News interview Wednesday.

The high court last Thursday upheld the individual mandate provision of the law under Congress' taxation power.

Eric Fehrnstrom, the senior adviser to Romney's campaign, said in a Monday interview that Romney thought otherwise.

"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 - 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."

The mandate, which has not yet kicked in, that many individuals obtain health insurance is to be enforced by the Internal Revenue Service, which would levy a tax or penalty on individuals required to carry insurance but who choose not to.

Romney signed into law a health reform measure with a similar mandate and fee when governor of Massachusetts. Republicans have criticized the Romney-backed Massachusetts law as being similar to the Obama-backed federal law. 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.

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


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