Romney Reverses Course, Calls Mandate ‘a Tax’

BY Terence Burlij and Katelyn Polantz  July 5, 2012 at 8:48 AM EST

Mitt Romney and his family walk in an Independence Day parade on Wednesday in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. Photo by Kayana Szymczak/Getty Images

The Morning Line

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney provided the political fireworks Wednesday, telling CBS News the mandate in President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul was a tax, a reversal of his campaign’s framing of the law just two days earlier, but a view that is more consistent with leaders in the Republican Party.

The presumed GOP presidential candidate explained that he disagreed with the majority’s decision to uphold the law, but said the Supreme Court’s ruling is final.

“The Supreme Court is the highest court in the nation and it said that it’s a tax, so it’s a tax,” Romney said. “There’s no way around that. You can try and say you wished they had decided a different way, but they didn’t. They concluded it was a tax,” he added.

On Monday, Romney campaign senior adviser Eric Ferhnstrom told MSNBC that the candidate disagreed “with the court’s ruling that the mandate was a tax.”

The health care issue has long been seen as a potential liability for Romney among conservatives because of the similarities between the law he signed as governor of Massachusetts in 2006 and the national measure enacted by the president in 2010. Both reforms included a requirement that people buy health insurance or pay a financial penalty.

And while the court ruled last week that the mandate in the national overhaul was a tax, Romney said the decision did not apply to the Massachusetts effort.

“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,” Romney said. “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.”

The Obama campaign fired off a statement charging that Romney had “contradicted his own campaign, and himself.” The release cited previous occasions when the likely Republican nominee described the enforcement mechanism in the Massachusetts law as a tax penalty or used similar terms.

“First, he threw his top aide Eric Fehrnstrom under the bus by changing his campaign’s position and calling the free rider penalty in the President’s health care law — which requires those who can afford it to buy insurance — a tax,” said Obama campaign spokesman Danny Tanner. “Second, he contradicted himself by saying his own Massachusetts mandate wasn’t a tax.”

Obama campaign senior adviser David Axelrod took to Twitter to blast Romney as a flip-flopper.

Look for the president to be asked about Romney’s remarks Thursday during the start of a two-day bus tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Democrats weren’t the only ones seizing on Romney’s comments Wednesday. The conservative-leaning Wall Street Journal editorial board penned a column charging that the episode made the Romney campaign look “confused” and “politically dumb.”

This latest mistake is of a piece with the campaign’s insular staff and strategy that are slowly squandering an historic opportunity. Mr. Obama is being hurt by an economic recovery that is weakening for the third time in three years. But Mr. Romney hasn’t been able to take advantage, and if anything he is losing ground.

With so many Republicans going after the president and congressional Democrats for raising taxes through the health care law, it seems the Romney campaign decided that the negative consequences of being seen as shifting positions were outweighed by the need to appear on the same page with the vast majority of the party.

MORE SCOTUS ON THE NEWSHOUR

The NewsHour took the opportunity this week to explain to viewers more about the Supreme Court and its historic decision on health care reform.

Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal and presidential historian Michael Beschloss outlined the court’s historical impact in its 2011-2012 term.

A number of cases besides health care, such as rulings on immigration, prison sentences for juvenile murderers and lying about military medals, helped the court move away from its political divides of the past.

“I think it’s hard to say this is a states’ rights court, or this is always a national government court. It really depends on the issue that comes up,” Coyle said. “This is a conservative court, though, Judy.”

Beschloss compared the year’s decisions with key moments during the administrations of Franklin Roosevelt, Richard Nixon and other presidents.

Watch the segment here or below.

The NewsHour’s Allie Morris crafted a slideshow detailing big moments in the court’s history.

And on Tuesday, the NewsHour’s Ray Suarez asked Americans for their top questions about health care after the big Supreme Court decision. He presented them to Susan Dentzer in the studio and got her answers.

Watch the segment here or below.

WHO SIGNED THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

In recognition of the Fourth of July, NewsHour last night featured a conversation on the lives of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence.

Some were men of stature while others were ordinary people who rose to the occasion during an intense period of time in our nation’s history, said journalists Denise Kiernan and Joseph D’Agnese, authors of “Signing Their Live Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed the Declaration of Independence.”

The authors hope to bring this period of time to the silver screen. The two have been traveling to America’s 13 original colonies, visiting the homesteads of America’s founding fathers and capturing their experiences on film.

Watch the segment here or below.

2012 LINE ITEMS

  • The Toledo Blade reports the Obama administration will file an unfair trade complaint against China ahead of the president’s visit to Northwest Ohio Thursday.

  • The president (will be back in Iowa next week)[http://easterniowagovernment.com/2012/07/03/obama-to-return-to-cedar-rapids-july-10/].

  • The latest round of speculative Romney veep stories focuses on New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte.

  • See who’s donating to whom in California through this interactive political donor relationship map from the Orange County Register.

  • Our collection of a tapestry of voter voices continues, with results from an online questionnaire we conducted that gauged viewers’ political enthusiasm.

  • The NewsHour outlines its Listen to Me project, and the top issue is still the economy.

  • Two Pennsylvania conservatives are urging the Republicans not to give up on the Keystone State as a battleground this fall.

  • The Associated Press’ Beth Fouhy looks at the dedicated volunteers for both Team Romney and Team Obama.

  • Mansur Gidfar of Upworthy.com is deeply offended by the Romney campaign’s use of a Venn diagram. Here’s his post, “Campaigning 101: Graphics”.

TOP TWEETS

OUTSIDE THE LINES

  • For more answers to your burning questions on the health care reform act, the Kaiser Family Foundation presents a quiz.

  • NewsHour’s Paul Solman accounts the significance of a U.S. gold standard.

  • Wikileaks has returned, this time with a collection of documents on Syria. The data dump happens today.

  • The Sunlight Foundation asks: Whatever happened to earmark transparency?

  • The Atlantic blasted Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley for his handling of the prolonged power outages in the state, writing “O’Malley’s abysmal performance in his own state makes his claim to national leadership seem a practical joke.” Watch O’Malley’s response to the post-storm situation here.

  • Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked the first question during arguments more than a quarter of the time. This handy infographic from the Washington Post maps out the justices’ trends.

  • Yvonne Miller, one of the longest serving Virginia state senators and the first black woman elected to the state’s House of Delegates, has died.

Christina Bellantoni and Cassie Chew contributed to this report.

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • President Obama campaigns in Ohio with stops in Maumee at 11:40 a.m., Sandusky at 3:40 p.m. and Parma at 7:15 p.m.

  • Mitt Romney has no public events scheduled.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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