Romney's Health Care Limbo Draws Fire From Right

Romney's Health Care Limbo Draws Fire From Right

By Scott Conroy - July 6, 2012

The news on Thursday should have provided an easy opportunity for Mitt Romney to impress a conservative base with which he has long had a complicated relationship.

Politico reported that the presumptive nominee's campaign and aligning committees raised over $100 million last month -- a record haul in that period for a Republican presidential candidate and perhaps the strongest evidence yet that the financial gap Romney expected to face with President Obama is instead becoming an advantage.

But it was not to be.

From a particularly tough takedown of Romney’s strategy on the Wall Street Journal editorial page to an even more biting column from the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol, which compared the Republican’s approach to that of failed Democratic White House hopefuls Michael Dukakis and John Kerry, the day was dominated by prominent conservatives airing their misgivings about the state of the campaign.

“Is it too much to ask Mitt Romney to get off autopilot and actually think about the race he's running?” Kristol asked in his column.

At the heart of the public grumbling on the right was Team Romney’s response to the Supreme Court decision that upheld the individual mandate in Obama’s signature health care reform law.

Earlier this week, senior Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom echoed official campaign statements in an appearance on MSNBC when he said that Romney disagreed with Chief Justice John Roberts’ characterization of the mandate as a tax.

“He agreed with the dissent written by Justice Scalia, which very clearly stated that the mandate was not a tax,” Fehrnstrom said in a comment that was echoed by another campaign spokesperson.

That assessment of the individual mandate as a penalty, rather than a tax, appeared to come in consideration of the universal health care law Romney implemented in Massachusetts, which also carried a mandate that the Republican has long been careful to avoid describing as a tax.

But in an interview with CBS News that aired on Thursday morning, the candidate himself took pains to backtrack from his staffers’ statements and align himself semantically with conservatives who have protested that the reform law amounts to a massive tax hike.

“Well, the Supreme Court has the final word, and their final word is that Obamacare is a tax, so it’s a tax,” Romney said.

Asked if that characterization suggests he had raised taxes as governor by way of his health care mandate, Romney refused to concede the point.

“Actually, the chief justice, in his opinion, made it very clear that at the state level, states have the power to put in place mandates,” he said. “They don’t need to require them to be called taxes in order for them to be constitutional, and as a result, Massachusetts’ mandate was a penalty.”

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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