Looks like someone's having a little trouble keeping their talking points straight. RNC Chairman Contradicts Romney Camp, Says Mandate Is A Tax:
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.
Here's more from our regular commenter Mugsy on why the Republicans are so desperate to call it a tax and why it's not: Sorry Right Wingers, the Health Care Penalty is NOT a “Tax”. Roberts says so. (Updated with video)
Transcript of Priebus' exchange on CNN below the fold.
BALDWIN: Mitt Romney's campaign and the Republican Party seem to be conflicting messages here about what happens when it comes to the specific issue in the health care legislation, this law here.
Romney senior campaign adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom recently contradicted the Republican Party's core line of attack on health care by calling the individual mandate to buy health insurance a penalty and not a tax. In fact, he says Romney is siding with President Obama on the mandate. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The governor does not believe the mandate is a tax. That's what you're saying?
ERIC FEHRNSTROM, ROMNEY SENIOR ADVISOR: 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.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But he agrees with the president that it is not -- and he believes you shouldn't call the tax penalty a tax. You should call it a penalty or a fee or fine?
FEHRNSTROM: That's correct.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: That's correct he says, but shortly after Romney's campaign followed up with this message. Quote, "The Supreme Court left President Obama with two choices. The federal individual mandate in Obamacare is either a constitutional tax or an unconstitutional penalty.
Governor Romney thinks it is an unconstitutional penalty. What is President Obama's position? Is his federal mandate unconstitutional or is it a tax?"
So this mixed message could really create a problem for Republicans who are trying now to demonstrate that President Obama did in fact break his promise not to raise taxes.
Reince Priebus is the chairman of the Republican National Committee. Reince, good morning to you.
REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIRMAN: Hi, Brooke. Good morning.
BALDWIN: Let me just coming out of the gates and ask you this, did Eric Fehrnstrom just make your job a heck of a lot more difficult?
PRIEBUS: No. You know, this is the problem, I think you have these conversations about a Supreme Court ruling that we all don't like, at least I don't like it. I don't agree with it.
But that doesn't mean even though I don't agree with it, even though I agree with a dissent of that opinion, it doesn't mean that the truth is not the truth once a Supreme Court speaks.
And the Supreme Court has stated that Obamacare is a tax and so since they have ruled that it's a tax --
BALDWIN: I don't know if that was the precise phraseology if you read it from the court, but it could be like a tax or power of Congress to tax.
But let me get to this. You know, you say you like it and agree with the dissent. President Obama and Romney say this is a mandate, not a tax. What is the RNC's position on this? PRIEBUS: Well, our position is the same as Mitt Romney's position, it's a tax, that's the only way the Supreme Court came up with the decision that it did in order to make it constitutional.
BALDWIN: But it sounds like camp Romney says it was a penalty. So I'm just asking you specifically, Republican National Committee, tax or penalty, which is it?
PRIEBUS: It's a tax and the reason why it's a tax is because the Supreme Court number one ruled it was a tax and number two, it's what Barack Obama's lawyer argued before the Supreme Court.
So here's the problem, Brooke, here's the crux of the issue. The crux of the issue is most Republicans and I think most independents don't believe that Obamacare should have been ruled constitutional or --
BALDWIN: I have to stop you there. I have to stop you there. I was talking to a Republican congresswoman yesterday and I have to point this out again, we have these polls, Reince. And I just want to show you this.
You have Americans reaction to the Supreme Court decision. This is after last Thursday, 46 percent agree and when you look specifically at independents, 45 percent agree. So let's just agree, can we move off that and I want to ask you this --
PRIEBUS: No, we can't agree with it because most polls, Brooke, show that most Americans by a wide margin over 60 percent don't agree --
BALDWIN: What polls are you looking at?
PRIEBUS: -- is good for the American people. What polls am I looking today?
BALDWIN: I'm looking at "USA Today"/Gallup.
PRIEBUS: -- NBC poll, we have Rasmussen polls, we've got Gallup polls. There are polls all over the map that show that over 60 percent of the American people --
BALDWIN: I haven't seen that poll. I would love to see that. Take a look at this poll. This is the poll we have, Reince.
PRIEBUS: Maybe we'll e-mail you a bunch of them.
BALDWIN: I have a lot of polls and I'm showing you the poll here. That was the Gallup/"USA Today" poll and that's 46 percent of Americans reaction.
PRIEBUS: If that's the case, then we would love to have an election on one issue in November and the question will be, if you believe that Obamacare should be repealed then vote for Mitt Romney, and if you think it should stay then vote for Barack Obama. And I would just love my chances in that question, Brooke. BALDWIN: We'll see come November. Meantime, whether we say tax or whether we say penalty, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi says it's going to affect 1 percent of the population. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: It's not a tax -- it's a penalty for free riders.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: So when we -- I want to be specific for our viewers, when you come up with this 1 percent number, the CBO says in its 2010 report projects in 2016, 3.9 million uninsured Americans will pay this penalty or tax is what you want to call it.
U.S. population 2016 expected to rise to 328 million people so you do the math, that's 1 percent. In addition, "Wall Street Journal" Steven Moore writes 70 percent to 75 percent of the tax.
So this 1 percent actually falls on those who earn less than $200,000 per year. So with that said, is 1 percent enough of a leg for the Republican Party to stand on to really make this a campaign issue?
PRIEBUS: Absolutely. Because number one, it's spending money that we don't have. I think that's an important issue in the debt and deficit and the projections in long term over a 10-year period, it spends almost $2 trillion we don't have.
Plus, Brooke, it affects small business's ability as well, not seen in Nancy Pelosi's numbers are all of the small businesses that are going to be forced into a program that either they can't afford or they don't want.
And that's why you see all of these waivers that have come into the White House. I mean, he's had hundreds and hundreds of waivers from companies that don't want to opt into Obamacare.
Now the White House had to stop that because it was getting to the point where there are almost too many of these businesses that wanted waivers.
The point of all of this is, Mitt Romney is going to do everything he can on day one to repeal Obamacare and we believe that that's an absolutely winning issue for us, Brooke, in November.
People don't want Europe in America and I think the solution to that is firing Barack Obama and putting Mitt Romney in office.
BALDWIN: If the law were to be repealed, Americans don't actually think Mitt Romney is the one to do it. And again, if I may, Reince, I have a poll and this poll here is, CNN/ORC poll, registered voters, who would better handle health care, Obama 51 percent, Romney 44 percent. Does that concern you?
PRIEBUS: You know, a snapshot always concerns me, but I mean, I also know it's a long campaign and I think at the end of the day, people generally and I'm convinced of this, Brooke, we don't agree today.
But I think generally people don't agree that Obamacare is good for America. People understand that Mitt Romney will get rid of Obamacare and obviously, people who don't believe that Obamacare or European health care is good for America, know Barack Obama is not the answer.
And he is the one that went to Supreme Court and made sure it got jammed down our throats. And unfortunately for us, the majority has spoken, Obamacare is a tax and Mitt Romney is the guy to get rid of it.
BALDWIN: OK, Reince Priebus, we'll see what happens in November. We appreciate you. I want to end and talk to the panel briefly. I read your piece in "The New Yorker" a couple of days ago where you wrote the likelihood of a repeal is not so likely.