Romney’s Spectacular Flip-Flop on Obamacare as a Tax

How you look at things.
July 5 2012 1:03 PM

Tax Dodger

Mitt Romney’s evolving positions on whether mandatory health insurance is a tax.

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July 2, 2012. On MSNBC, Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney’s senior adviser and spokesman, tells Chuck Todd, “The governor disagreed with the ruling of the court. He agreed with the dissent that was written by Justice Scalia, which very clearly stated that the mandate was not a tax.” He continues:

Fehrnstrom: 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. But again—

Todd: So he agrees with the president … and he believes that you shouldn’t call the tax penalty a tax, you should call it a penalty or a fee or a fine?

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Fehrnstrom: That’s correct. But the president also needs to be held accountable for his hypocritical and contradictory statements. But he’s described it variously as a penalty and as a tax.

July 2, 2012. Lest anyone mistake Fehrnstrom's comments as a spontaneous rogue error, the Romney campaign issues a press release quoting spokeswoman Andrea Saul:

The Supreme Court left President Obama with two choices: the federal individual mandate in Obamacare is either a constitutional tax or an unconstitutional penalty. Governor Romney thinks it is an unconstitutional penalty. What is President Obama’s position: is his federal mandate unconstitutional or is it a tax?”

July 4, 2012. In an interview with Jan Crawford of CBS News—six days after the Supreme Court ruling, six days after declaring his disagreement with the ruling, and two days after his campaign issued a press release reaffirming that the mandate was a penalty, not a tax—Romney announces that the court’s ruling has changed his view on that question.

Romney: The Supreme Court has the final word. And their final word is that Obamacare is a tax. So it's a tax. …

Crawford: Have you changed your views on this? Do you now believe that it is a tax at the federal level—that the Supreme Court has said it's a tax, so it is a tax?

Romney: Well, 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. It's in the minority. And so now the Supreme Court has spoken. … They concluded it was a tax. That's what it is. And the American people know that President Obama has broken the pledge he made. He said he wouldn't raise taxes on middle-income Americans. Not only did he raise the $500 billion that was already in the bill, it's now clear that his mandate, as described by the Supreme Court, is a tax.

Crawford: But does that mean the mandate in the state of Massachusetts under your health care law also is a tax, and that you raised taxes as governor?

Romney: Actually the chief justice, in his opinion, made it very clear that at the state level, states 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. And, as a result, Massachusetts' mandate was a mandate, was a penalty, was described that way by the legislature and by me. And so it stays as it was.

Romney also tells CNN: "The Supreme Court is the final word, right? Isn’t that the highest court in the land? And they said it was a tax, didn't they? So it's a tax, of course.”

Let’s recap. First Romney said that the individual mandate, far from being a tax, was the alternative to taxation. Then he said fees targeted at freeloaders to cover the cost of health insurance weren’t taxes. Then he said tax penalties for failure to buy health insurance didn’t count as government revenue and spending. Then he said requiring people to pay higher taxes for not buying health insurance didn’t count as raising taxes. Then he refused to join other Republican leaders in saying that the Supreme Court ruling made the individual mandate a tax. Then his campaign issued a press release saying that he continued to view the mandate as a penalty, not a tax. Then, yesterday, he announced that that although he personally agreed with the court’s dissenters that the mandate was a penalty, not a tax, he now accepts the verdict of the court’s controlling opinion that the mandate is a tax. But he says this doesn’t apply to his own mandate, even though his mandate, like Obama’s, meets all the criteria he has enumerated over the years for distinguishing a penalty from a tax. And he says Obama, by imposing the mandate, broke his promise not to raise taxes on the middle class.

I didn’t think Romney could top the audacity of his self-reinvention on abortion. Looks like I might be wrong.