The Romney campaign has been taking pains to emphasize they believe the individual mandate is not a tax. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus didn’t get that memo.
On CNN’s “Starting Point” Tuesday morning, Priebus said that the position of both the RNC and the Romney campaign is that the mandate is, in fact, a tax.
“Our position is the same as Mitt Romney’s position,” Priebus said. “It’s a tax.”
Priebus said that while he disagreed with the Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the health care law, the decision defined the provision requiring people to either purchase insurance or pay a fine as a tax. “It’s a tax, and the reason why it’s a tax is because the Supreme Court, No. 1, ruled it was a tax and No. 2, it’s what Barack Obama’s lawyer argued before the Supreme Court,” Priebus said.
The only problem: Priebus’s assessment, though he framed it as the joint belief of the RNC and the Romney campaign, is directly at odds with Romney’s recent statements.
In a rare agreement between the two campaigns, the Romney camp has shied from calling the mandate a tax because doing so would imply that Romney, too, created a tax in Massachusetts under his health care reform plan. “The governor believes what we put in place in Massachusetts was a penalty and he disagrees with the court’s ruling that it was a tax,” senior Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said Monday on MSNBC. Fehrnstrom said it was “correct” that Romney and President Obama agree on the issue.
The Obama campaign pointed out Monday that comments calling the mandate a tax — like the one Priebus made Tuesday — were self-defeating. “[A]s the Republican Party and their super PACs try to depict this narrow, freeloader penalty, that would touch less than 1 percent of Americans, as a broad tax on the middle class,” Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod said Monday, “they’re sliming their own nominee, as well.”
Priebus also sparred with CNN host Brooke Baldwin Tuesday morning over his claim that both Republicans and independents widely disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the law.
“The crux of the issue is most Republicans, and I think most independents, don’t believe that Obamacare should have been ruled constitutional,” Priebus said.
“I have to stop you there,” Baldwin said, citing polling data indicating that independents are split on the issue. Priebus said he would e-mail Baldwin some polls. A CNN poll Monday found a majority of independents support the court’s decision, 52 percent to 47 percent.
“Obamacare is a tax and Mitt Romney is the guy to get rid of it,” Priebus said, wrapping his interview.
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.