Taxing problem as Romney flip flops on mandate
MITT ROMNEY declared on Wednesday that President Barack Obama’s healthcare mandate was in fact a tax, shifting his campaign’s characterisation of the law and aligning himself with the conservative voices in his party.
Romney’s remarks, made in a hastily arranged interview with CBS News on a national holiday, prompted renewed criticisms that he was willing to adjust his views for political expediency. Two days earlier, his chief spokesman and senior strategist had said that Romney did not believe the mandate should be called a tax.
Romney was already in the uncomfortable position of standing at odds with the dominant Republican Party message on healthcare: that Obama was imposing a burdensome new tax on the middle class by requiring health insurance. His latest statement, while carrying the short-term risk of allowing his opponent to brand him a flip-flopper, helps him square an issue that could be a political liability with conservative voters in November.
A debate over whether a requirement to carry health insurance can be considered a tax – as the Supreme Court ruled last week it could – has consumed the presidential campaign since the court’s decision. Conservatives have pounced on the tax issue, saying Obama had deceived the American people by disguising a huge tax increase as a healthcare reform bill.
Asked twice on Wednesday whether the president’s mandate amounted to a tax, Romney said that it did.
“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.” He later repeated his assertion to CNN after a Fourth of July parade here, an idyllic summer retreat on the edge of Lake Winnipesaukee.
The Obama campaign seized on Romney’s words, calling them a glaring contradiction of his chief spokesman’s remarks just two days earlier.
“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.”
Fehrnstrom’s comments on Monday, in which he also said Romney felt the healthcare law was unconstitutional and should have been invalidated, were backed up by a campaign news release that day saying that Romney believed the mandate was “an unconstitutional penalty” – notably not a tax.
The backlash that erupted on Wednesday was a reminder of just how problematic the issue of healthcare reform is for Romney. As governor of Massachusetts, he oversaw the 2007 fulfilment of a first-in-the-nation plan requiring that nearly every Massachusetts resident obtain health insurance or pay a penalty for failing to do so.
The question of the “individual mandate”, as the requirement is known, has emerged as one of the most polarising political issues of the day.
It helped propel the Tea Party movement to mainstream politics, with conservatives calling it a gross overreach of federal power and an infringement on liberty.
Romney’s support of the Massachusetts plan deepened suspicions among many conservatives, who were already wary of him because of the more liberal positions he once took on social issues like abortion and gay rights.