Fehrnstrom says Romney agrees with Obama and Scalia on the mandate, and sticks with it
Appearing on MSNBC's "The Daily Rundown" this morning, Mitt Romney's senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said his boss agrees with Justice Antonin Scalia and the dissenters from last week's Supreme Court ruling that an individual mandate is a penalty and not a tax.
More importantly, Fehrnstrom's revelation also means that Romney agrees with President Obama, who has long argued that the mandate is a penalty, a characterization that was effectively rejected by Chief Justice John Roberts in upholding the law.
"The governor disagreed with the ruling of the court," Fehrnstrom told host Chuck Todd. "He agreed with the dissent written by Justice Scalia which very clearly stated that the mandate was not a tax."
Todd re-asked the question to make sure he heard him right.
"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," Fehnrstrom said again.
"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?" Todd asked.
"That's correct," Fehrnstrom said.
Roberts' ruling was seen by some as a gift to conservatives, handing them an election-year talking point by declaring the penalty a tax.
But it was never such a clear victory for Romney.
Democrats have defended against that charge by arguing, under the same logic, that Romney instituted a massive tax hike in Massachusetts.
The problem seemed to vex some Republicans. Faced with that question on "Fox News Sunday" yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Romney would have to speak for himself about what he did in Massachusetts.
Now, it appears Romney has. The decision would seem to indicate that Romney will sacrifice making the tax argument himself, in order to keep from branding himself as a tax-hiker.
Democrats seem rather gleeful about the news: Both the Democratic National Committee and the Obama campaign sent out releases highlighting Fehrnstrom's declaration.