In an interview on MSNBC a couple of days ago, Mitt Romney’s senior advisor Eric Fehrnstrom had this exchange with host Chuck Todd about the Supreme Court’s ruling on the health care mandate (my emphasis):
“The governor disagreed with the ruling of the court. He agreed with the dissent written by Justice Scalia, which very clearly stated that the mandate was not a tax.”
Chuck Todd, the show’s host, suggested that Mr. Romney “believes that you should not call the tax penalty a tax. You should call it a penalty or a fee or a fine.”
“That’s correct,” Mr. Fehrnstrom said.
Unfortunately, this undermined the party’s attempts to try and play up the tax angle, so first step- throw Eric Fehrnstrom under the bus; second step- send out the Republican enforcers. Now Romney is declaring it a tax (Surprise!), and here’s his rationale:
“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. They have spoken. There’s no way around that.”
Of course that would mean Romney’s mandate in Massachusetts was a tax; thus he raised taxes while he was Governor. But here’s how he spins that:
“…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…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.”
So because he’s not required to call it a tax, it’s not a tax, even though the actual penalty for not getting insurance is a tax increase, as Romney described it in 2009:
“There are a number of ways to encourage people to get insurance and what we did, we said ‘you’re going to lose a tax exemption if you don’t have insurance.”
John McDonough, director of Harvard’s Center for Public Health Leadership, played a key role in both the Massachusetts and the national legislation. He sums it up:
“This is one of the dumbest conversations we’ve had all year about health reform…There is no real point to it except political posturing.”
And maybe some habitual flip-flopping.