The Washington Post

Romney’s taxing twist on health care mandate

Mitt Romney clinched the Republican nomination on May 29. Yet he is still trying to convince conservatives that he is one of them. The latest example happened yesterday when he sat with CBS News’s Jan Crawford to explain his stance on the Supreme Court’s health-care ruling.

ROMNEY: ...The Supreme Court is the highest court in the nation and it said that it’s a tax, so it’s a tax. That’s what it is. And what I’d like to hear is how President Obama can say he doesn’t think it’s a tax. He disagrees with the court. He thinks the court is inaccurate. If that’s the case, then he must think the bill is unconstitutional because, in order to find it constitutional, they had to find it a tax. And by the way, don’t forget, it was his Solicitor General that went into the court and argued it was a tax. And the conclusion of the court that it’s constitutional…

Apparently, this “clarification” was deemed necessary after Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom’s problematic interview with Chuck Todd on Monday. He told the MSNBC anchor that the former Massachusetts governor whose health-care law and its mandate were the template for Obamacare believed the mandate the justices called a “tax” was not a tax but a “penalty.”

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TODD: I think we're talking around each other. The governor does not believe the mandate is a tax, that’s what you’re saying?
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.
TODD: But he agrees with the president that it is not — and he believes that you should not call the tax penalty a tax, you should call it a penalty or a fee or a fine?
FEHRNSTROM: That’s correct. But the president also needs to be held accountable for his hypocritical and contradictory statements because he's described it variously as a penalty and as a tax. So he needs to reconcile those two very different statements.

As a result of these two interviews, Romney and his campaign got mauled by the Wall Street Journal editorial page this morning. The conservative equivalent of the principal’s office was not happy that Romney threw away the chance to hit President Obama on raising taxes on the middle class (as it sees it) with the Fehrnstrom interview.

In a stroke, the Romney campaign contradicted Republicans throughout the country who had used the Chief Justice's opinion to declare accurately that Mr. Obama had raised taxes on the middle class.

But when the candidate himself stepped forward to say that Obama’s mandate was indeed a tax (over and over and over again), the editorial board blew a gasket.

The tragedy is that for the sake of not abandoning his faulty health-care legacy in Massachusetts, Mr. Romney is jeopardizing his chance at becoming President.

Perhaps Mr. Romney is slowly figuring this out, because in a July 4 interview he stated himself that the penalty now is a “tax” after all. But he offered no elaboration, and so the campaign looks confused in addition to being politically dumb.

Romney will accept his party’s nomination for president in Tampa in 55 days. That’s nearly eight weeks to convince conservatives he can be trusted. But at the rate things are going, I’m convinced there’s not enough time in the world to make that happen.

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.


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