In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, Republicans have widely repeated the claim that Obamacare’s individual mandate represents a massive tax increase. This, of course, has created a problem: Doesn’t that mean Mitt Romney’s mandate in Massachusetts was also a tax increase?
The Romney campaign has now hit on its solution to this conundrum — claim that Obamacare’s mandate is not a tax, after all. Here’s Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom on Daily Rundown:
FEHRNSTROM: 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.
CHUCK TODD: 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, but again —
TODD: But he agrees with the president that it is not — 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?
FEHRNSTROM: That’s correct. But the president also needs to be held accountable for his hypocritical and contradictory statements...
Of course, Romney himself has previously referred to his own mandate as a “tax” penalty. But put that aside for a sec. You’d think the fact that the GOP presidential nominee’s campaign has now confirmed that Obamacare’s mandate is not a tax would undercut the use of this talking point by GOP Congressional officials, right?
You’d be wrong. One senior Congressional aide tells me that Republicans will continue to describe it in those terms. And a second senior GOP Congressional aide emails that there is no contradiction here, arguing that Fehrnstrom didn’t quite say that the Obamacare mandate isn’t a tax:
That’s not what he said. He said Romney agrees with Scalia’s dissent that it wasn’t a tax. Every Republican I know agrees with the dissent. The court however ruled otherwise, and thereby defined it as a tax. The mandate issue is no longer debatable from the standpoint of whether it is a tax or not. You can believe whatever you’d like but the reality is that ACA only exists today because Roberts defined the mandate as a tax.
I read Fehrnstrom’s quote as being pretty clear on this matter. But parsing this aide’s argument, it seems that the claim will be that the Romney campaign and Republican Congressional officials alike both agree with Scalia’s argument that the mandate is not a tax in the sense that claiming it is a tax makes it Constitutional, even as Republican officials continue to argue that the mandate is a tax in the sense that SCOTUS said it was in the course of upholding the law. In other words, Obamacare’s mandate is not a tax, because Republicans continue to think it’s unconstitutional. But Obamacare’s continuing existence is testament to the fact that the mandate is, in fact, a tax. Of course, Romney’s campaign seems to have broken with that last argument.
As for the question of whether Fehrnstrom’s remarks today mean Republican officials will stop calling the mandate a tax, the answer is a resounding No.
It would be interesting to know whether all this was coordinated. Oh, to have overheard those conversations!