On Monday, senior Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said the former Massachusetts governor rejected the court’s characterization and believed that the individual mandate was a penalty, not a tax.
Although Romney’s comments on Wednesday opened him up to renewed criticism from Democrats that he had changed positions for political expediency, campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg maintained that his remarks “were in line” with what Fehrnstrom said Monday.
Romney said he disagrees with the court’s ruling, and aides said he still thinks the individual mandate is an “unconstitutional penalty,” but he said he accepts that the court’s majority opinion is now the law of the land.
“The Supreme Court has the final word, and their final word is that Obamacare is a tax,” Romney told CBS. “So it’s a tax. They decided it was constitutional. So it is a tax, and it’s constitutional.”
Later, Romney said: “While I agreed with the dissent, that’s taken over by the fact that the majority of the court said it’s a tax, and therefore it is a tax. They have spoken. There is no way around that.”
Health-care reform has been a difficult issue for Romney, given the many similarities between the Massachusetts legislation he championed and signed as governor and the federal law that has become one of the most inflammatory issues for conservative voters. The Supreme Court’s ruling made the matter even trickier for Romney.
By saying the mandate is a tax, Romney seemed to acknowledge that the provision in the Massachusetts law that, like Obama’s federal law, fines people who don’t buy health coverage also is a tax. But he argued that is not the case.
Had Romney not called the federal mandate a tax, he would have been at odds with most other Republican leaders in the country, who have seized on last week’s ruling to open a fresh line of attack against Obama and the legislation they call “Obamacare.”
In the CBS interview, Romney signaled that he would campaign on the Supreme Court ruling and he began to brand Obama as imposing new taxes on the middle class.
“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,” the Republican said.
Romney’s comments Wednesday interrupted what seemed like a perfectly scripted Fourth of July for the candidate, who emerged for the first time from his family vacation at his lakefront compound in Wolfeboro to march in the town’s annual parade.