For once, the Obama administration and the Romney campaign seem to agree: the mandate in the Affordable Care Act is a penalty, not a tax.
On MSNBC’s “The Daily Rundown” this morning, Romney’s senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom — best known for his “Etch a Sketch” gaffe — was grilled by host Chuck Todd over Romney’s true beliefs on the individual mandate. Fehrnstrom talked around the point for a few minutes, but he finally relented and gave away the game:
FEHRNSTROM: 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: 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?
FEHRNSTROM: That’s correct.
Fehrnstrom’s statement breaks away from the Republican message on the Supreme Court’s ruling. Top GOP leaders such as House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have (falsely) proclaimed the Affordable Care Act to be the “the largest tax increase in the history of the world,” and Romney himself stated that “ObamaCare raises taxes on the American people by $500 billion.”
Furthermore, Fehrnstrom’s concession that Romney does not believe that the mandate is a tax adds yet another layer of confusion as to what Romney’s position really is. Once again, the Republican candidate finds himself in a dilemma: he must align with the GOP’s right wing base, but he must also protect himself from critics who will point to his health care reform in Massachusetts as a tax as well. If GOP leaders continue with this line of attack, they will also have to admit that Governor Romney had raised taxes in the same fashion in Massachusetts.
Over the weekend, Rupert Murdoch suggested that Romney would not win the 2012 election unless he “unless he drops old friends” from his campaign team and replaces them with “real pros.” After his latest critical error, maybe Romney’s old buddy Fehrnstrom should be a little bit worried about his future with the campaign.