Health-Care Penalty No Tax — Romney Aide Maintains

Photograph by Steven Senne/AP Photo

A Rick Santorum supporter with an Etch A Sketch at a campaign event for Mitt Romney.

Republican Mitt Romney, who helped enact a penalty for those without health insurance in Massachusetts, does not consider it a tax.

So says Eric Fehrnstrom, the senior Romney adviser who gained some fame earlier this year during some rough party primary contests for suggesting that Romney will be able to reset his message when the general election campaign gets underway — sort of like an Etch A Sketch (which has taken up the advertising slogan: “Shake it up, America.”)

“The governor was clear on many different occasions since the passage of health care reforms in Massachusetts,” Fehrnstrom said on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown” today. “What we did in Massachusetts works for Massachusetts. It may not necessarily work in California, Texas, or Oklahoma. So what we did works in Massachusetts. It was never meant to be a one size fits all plan for the entire nation.”

“But Chuck,” Fehrnstrom told host Chuck Todd, “the governor has consistently described the mandate as a penalty.”

The Republican message machine is trying hard to accuse  President Barack Obama of increasing taxes on middle-class Americans after the Supreme Court’s ruling that the health care mandate is valid as an exercise of the government’s taxing power.

But the party will have to do so without the help of Romney, whose own health plan in Massachusetts contained an almost identical mandate.

It’s Obama, Fernhstrom maintains, who is trying to have it both ways:

“Look at what the president has said about Obamacare. In order to get it past the Congress, he insisted publicly and to the members of Congress that the mandate was not a tax. After it passed the Congress, he sent his solicitor general up to court to argue that it was a tax. Now he is back to arguing that t’s not a tax. So he’s all over the map.”

The taxing authority of the Congress, ofr course, is what Chief Justice John Roberts relied upon in his argument upholding the mandate.

The section of the law that mandates that ”would therefore be unconstitutional if read as a command,” Roberts wrote for the 5-4 majority upholding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. ”The Federal Government does have the power to impose a tax on those without health insurance.” That part of the law, “is therefore constitutional, because it can reasonably be read as a tax.”

On the day of the ruling, with the Capitol as a backdrop, Romney maintained that ”Obamacare was bad law yesterday, it’s bad law today,” and said: “Obamacare raises taxes on the American people by approximately $500 billion.”

 ”This law is a tax,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on the Senate floor immediately after the ruling.

“It’s not a tax on the American people — it’s a penalty for free riders,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said on NBC’s “Meet The Press” yesterday. Pelosi said the penalty would fall on perhaps 1 percent of the population who, because they don’t buy health insurance, “make it more expensive.”

White House Budget Director Jack Lew suggested there is no percentage in rehashing old arguments.

There are new sales tax on medical devices and other fees in the law as well as higher taxes for Americans earning more than $200.000 a year.

But the penalty for not meeting the mandate that most Americans obtain insurance is not one of those taxes, according to Fehrnstrom’s read on Romney’s reading of the law — which Roberts upheld for being a tax.

“The governor disagreed with the ruling of the court,” Fehrnstrom told Todd today. `He agreed with he dissent written by Justice (Antonin) Scalia which very clearly stated that the andate was not a tax.”

“The governor does not believe the mandate is a tax?” Todd asked. “That is what you’re saying?”

“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,” the Romney adviser said.

“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?” Todd asked to make sure.

“That’s correct.”

So Obama and Romney agree on the central definition of the health-care mandate — which was good for Massachusetts, but not “one size fits all.”







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