Contradicting his senior campaign adviser, Mitt Romney said Wednesday that the individual mandate in the health care law upheld by the Supreme Court represents a tax, not a penalty. But in seeking to regain lost political high ground, Romney also said that means President Obama "broke the pledge he made" not to raise taxes on middle-income Americans.
Romney's campaign has taken heavy criticism from Republicans since his adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, said that the individual mandate upheld last week is a “penalty,” not a tax as held by the Court's majority. Fehrnstrom's comment elated Democrats, who portrayed it as a vindication of Obama's long-held position that it was not a tax.
In an excerpt from an interview with CBS News that was put online Wednesday, Romney stressed his agreement with the dissent of the court's four conservative justices that the entire federal law should have been nullified.
"While I agreed with the dissent, that's taken over by the majority of the court that it is a tax, and therefore it is a tax, and they have spoken," Romney said. "There's no way around that ... They concluded it was a tax, and that's what the American people know, that President Obama has broken the pledge he made."
In agreeing with the Court that it constituted a tax and not a penalty, Romney could be vulnerable to criticism that the Massachusetts health care law he championed -- which was the basis for Obama's effort -- also represented a tax. But Romney appears to be calculating that voters will care far more about the Court's findings about the federal law than his state effort.
"He said he wouldn't raise taxes on middle-income Americans, and not only did he raise the $500 billion that was already in the bill, it's now clear that his mandate, as described by the Supreme Court, is a tax," Romney said of Obama.
In a portion of the interview released by Romney's campaign, he insisted that a similar levy imposed on those who chose not to buy insurance by the Massachusetts healthcare law he signed as governor was not a tax.
"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. 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," he said.
While he seems to have accepted the Court’s assertion that the penalty is a tax, Romney says he “vehemently” disagreed with the decision. Chief Justice John Roberts – whom Romney said would be a model for the justices he would nominate as president -- reportedly switched his vote to side with the justices upholding the law. In this case, Romney said, Robets “took a departure” from what he considers sound constitutional reasoning.
“It gives the impression that the decision was made not based upon constitutional foundation but instead political consideration about the relationship between the branches of government. But we won't really know the answers to those things until the justice himself speaks out-- maybe sometime in history,” Romney told CBS.
The presumptive nominee also brushed off recent attacks by the Obama campaign that he outsourced American jobs during his time at Bain Capital as mere politics, pointing to independent fact checkers that have ruled some of the claims untrue.
“That's the nature of politics. And I think it shows that he's in a real tough spot. He's grasping at any kind of straw he can find,” Romney said.
Ann Romney, who was interviewed alongside her husband, also said the ads are true and said the governor is a compassionate person, citing his decision not to take a salary when he turned around the 2002 Olympics and cared for her through illnesses.
The couple kept largely mum about the search for a vice president, though when Ann was asked about the possibility of Romney nominating a woman, she said, “We’ve been looking at that. And I'd love that option as well.”
One of Romney’s potential female prospects, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, marched with the Romneys in Wednesday’s Fourth of July parade in Wolfeboro, N.H., where they are on vacation.
Chuck McCutcheon contributed