Romney adviser on health care law: It’s a penalty, not a tax


Eric Fehrnstrom, the Romney spokesman made famous for his ‘Etch-a-Sketch’ comment, illuminated the struggle his candidate has had in explaining his evolving position on health care reform while appearing on Daily Rundown Monday.

Republicans, including Speaker of the House John Boehner, have used the Supreme Court’s ruling on  the Obama administration’s health care law to criticize the president for a new tax on Americans. (The justices ruled the law was constitutional because the government is allowed to levy taxes; The law includes a fine for those who do not comply.) But this causes a problem for the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, which is anti-tax, because Romney passed a very similar health care reform law that included a penalty fee when he was governor of Massachusetts.

msnbc host Chuck Todd pressed senior adviser Fehrnstrom to explain if Romney viewed his Massachusetts health care reform fee as a tax or penalty. 

“A penalty,” he answered after saying the law should be “repealed for a whole host of reasons.” 

“The governor disagreed with the ruling of the court. He agreed with the dissent that was written by Justice [Antonin] Scalia that very clearly stated that the mandate was not a tax,” Fehrnstrom said, later adding:

“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.”


Todd expressed his confusion given that this contradicts the existing Republican talking point on the health care law as a tax: “So he agrees with the president that you shouldn’t call the tax penalty a tax?”

“That’s correct,” Fehrnstrom said. “But the president also needs to be held accountable for his hypocritical and contradictory statements because he’s described it variously as a penalty and a tax.

Lest you fear this does not represent a classic Romney flip-flop, too, fear not. As others have pointed out, Romney previously referred to the Massachusetts law as a “tax penalty” more than once, including in a 2009 USA Today Op-Ed and in a 2008 debate.

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Romney adviser on health care law: It's a penalty, not a tax