Is the Affordable Care Act’s charge for not carrying insurance a penalty, or a tax? If you’re asking Mitt Romney, it all depends on what day it is.
Romney contradicted his own campaign Wednesday, telling CBS News that the ACA’s penalty is “a tax.”
Romney campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom had told MSNBC on Monday that Romney did not think the penalty was a tax.
“The governor believes what we put in place in Massachusetts was a penalty and he disagrees with the Court’s ruling that the mandate was a tax,” Fehrnstrom said.
Fehrnstrom was referring to the health care reform plan Romney signed into law while governor of Massachusetts, which had a similar penalty attached to it.
Romney, however, contradicted what Fehrnstrom said.
“While I agreed with the dissent, that’s overtaken by the fact that the majority of the Court said it’s a tax and therefore it is a tax,” Romney told CBS News’ Jan Crawford. “The American people know that President Obama has broken the pledge he made — said he wouldn’t raise taxes on middle-income Americans.”
But his still “is not a tax.”
However, Romney claimed that the health care reform he signed into law was not a tax.
“Actually, the chief justice in his opinion made it very clear that at the state level, states have the power to put in place mandates. They don’t need to require them to be called taxes in order for them to be constitutional,” Romney said. “And as a result, Massachusetts’ mandate was a mandate, was a penalty, was described that way by the Legislature and by me, and so it stays as it was.”
Essentially, Romney’s argument boils down to saying that what he authorized in Massachusetts was a “penalty,” but a very similar measure is a “tax” if it’s done by the federal government.
Romney’s legalistic and confusing argument is indicative of the tightrope he’s trying to walk with regard to health care reform. The ACA was modeled on Massachusetts’ health care plan, and contains many of the same provisions. Romney is trying to have his cake and eat it too, claiming that when Barack Obama does something, it’s a tax, but when Mitt Romney does something, it’s a penalty.
Of course, this makes little difference in the end; if a person is paying money to the IRS because they choose not to have health insurance, it doesn’t matter if you call that payment a tax or a penalty or a flibbertygibbet.
The Obama campaign wasted no time in responding to Romney’s reversal. “In an interview with CBS today, Mitt Romney contradicted his own campaign, and himself,” the campaign said in a statement. “First, he threw his top aide Eric Fehrnstrom under the bus by changing his campaign’s position and calling the free rider penalty in the President’s health care law — which requires those who can afford it to buy insurance — a tax. Second, he contradicted himself by saying his own Massachusetts mandate wasn’t a tax — but, Romney has called the individual mandate he implemented in Massachusetts a tax many times before. Glad we cleared all that up.”
Image Credit: Donkey Hotey
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