Romney’s Top Operative Undercuts Key GOP Talking Point, Says Mitt Agrees with Pres. Obama That Heritage Mandate Penalty Is Not a Tax

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In an appearance on Chuck Todd’s oddly named MSNBC show “The Daily Rundown” this morning, Mitt Romney’s top campaign adviser Eric “Etch-A-Sketch” Fehrnstrom admitted that Romney agrees with Pres. Obama on a fundamental issue of legal semantics about the Affordable Care Act. Fehrnstrom said that, in spite of the Supreme Court’s ruling otherwise, the penalty to be imposed on people who refuse to buy insurance under the Heritage Foundation-invented mandate in the Affordable Care Act is not a “tax.”

At minute 4:24, Todd finally gets a definitive answer:

FEHRNSTROM: Chuck, the governor has consistently described the mandate in Massachusetts as a penalty. Let’s take a step back and look at what the president has said about Obamacare. In order to get it past the Congress, he insisted, publicly and to the members of Congress, that the mandate was not a tax. After it passed the Congress, he sent his Solicitor General up to the Supreme Court to argue that it was a tax. So he’s all over the map.

TODD: … what you just said is that Gov. Romney agrees it’s not a tax. You guys call it a penalty.

FEHRNSTROM: The governor disagreed with the ruling of the court. He agreed with the dissent that was written by Justice Scalia, which very clearly stated that the mandate was not a tax.

TODD: I think we’re talking around each other. The governor does not believe the mandate is a tax. That’s what you’re saying?

FEHRNSTROM: The governor believes what we put in place in Massachusetts was a penalty and he disagrees with the Court’s ruling that it is not 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.

Steve Benen at MaddowBlog nails it:

So, for three days, Republicans have said, “We should call the penalty a tax.” This morning, the Romney campaign said, “No, we shouldn’t.”

This is a box the GOP can’t get out of. Mitt Romney created an identical policy in Massachusetts under the identical structure for identical reasons. If Obama raised taxes on the middle class, then Romney raised taxes on the middle class. For Fehrnstrom, that means neither did.

But for Republicans, that’s wholly unsatisfying. Indeed, the GOP message is an extraordinary mess, we now have the Romney campaign contradicting its own surrogates on the Republican Party’s #1 talking point.

If the GOP finds this frustrating, maybe they should have thought of this during the primaries.

Ferhnstrom is best known for making a colossal gaffe when he said Romney would erase his extreme right-wing rhetoric from the primaries by figuratively shaking an Etch-A-Sketch. This latest gaffe comes just one day after the Republican Party’s top propagandist, Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch appeared to be referring to Ferhnstrom when he tweeted, “Met Romney last week. Tough O Chicago pros will be hard to beat unless he drops old friends from team and hires some real pros. Doubtful.”


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