Mitt Romney is now saying that the health care law mandate is a tax after all and not a penalty. But it could present new problems for his campaign because he is contradicting his top strategist. On Wednesday, he explained his stance to CNN's Dana Bash while campaigning in New Hampshire.
"The Supreme Court has the final word, isn't that the highest court in the land? And they said it was a tax? It is a tax, of course, if that's what they said," Romney says.
Earlier this week his top advisor Eric Fehrnstrom said that Romney actually agreed with President Obama that the mandate was not a tax. Romney's new message falls in line with Republican attacks against the President promising voters he wouldn't raise taxes.
Alice Stewart, Republican strategist and fmr. press secretary for Rick Santorum Presidential Campaign, tells Soledad on "Starting Point" that Romney has been 'quite clear' that the health care mandate is a tax, and reiterates that the plan passed in Mass. is not a plan that would work on a federal level.
See more from the interview in the clip below. Transcript available after the jump.
O'BRIEN: I know you're not representing the campaign, but as a Republican strategist, I am a little bit confused. Is it clear whether Mitt Romney thinks this health care mandate is a tax or a penalty? What does he personally believe? Can you tell?
ALICE STEWART, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: What he made really clear yesterday in the interview with another network was that while he agrees with the dissent, that this was unconstitutional, that at the end of the day the final word came from the majority of the Supreme Court this is constitutional as a tax. Like it or not, the final word is in. The verdict is in. It is a tax. He made it quite clear he agreed with the dissent, but he understands that the final word is this is a tax which is different than what we heard from the president when he was arguing for passage of this and he promised repeatedly the American people this was not a tax. Several times he said that. Yet he said to the solicitor general before the Supreme Court arguing that it is a tax, so I think the American people need to question President Obama, this is a tax or is it not? Governor Romney made it clear the final word is in from the Supreme Court and this is a tax.
O'BRIEN: You said the first half is he agrees with the dissent and the dissent says it is not a tax. He is going to defer to what the Supreme Court now ruled and he actually believes it is not a tax. That's what the dissent believes, right?
STEWART: What he said is the time word is in. Like it or not, the Supreme Court ruled and the majority says this is a tax and that's what the American people have to accept.
O'BRIEN: All of that is not the same thing. Forgive me for interrupting, but all that is not the same thing as saying I believe it is a tax. He said he believes it is not a tax. The dissent says we believe it is not a tax. What it sounds like and in fact you're just agreeing with the way I was reading this, so I just want to confirm it, sounds like you're saying that Mitt Romney is even though he believes it is not a tax he is going to go along with what the Supreme Court has ruled because, of course, the Supreme Court makes the final decision. Is that correct, he believes it's not a tax? STEWART: Exactly what he said was that while he agrees with the dissent, the final word from the court is that this is a tax which is in line with what majority of Republicans believe and the important vote as I understand it nearly 60 percent do believe it is a tax.
As I said, the president has spoken out of both sides of his mouth on this issue and it is the question the American people need to ask it is in terms of how much it will cost. It costs a tremendous amount more than what he promised. There is a tremendous promise gap from the president.
O'BRIEN: And I think you definitely had both sides speaking out of both sides of their mouths on this one.
The "Wall Street Journal" said this. I will read a little to you. It says "The campaign," talking about the Romney campaign, "The campaign looks confused in addition to being politically dumb. This latest mistake is of a piece with campaigns staff and strategy that are slowly squandering historic opportunity. Mr. Obama is being hurt by an economic recovery that has weakened for the third time in three years and Mr. Romney hasn't been able to take advantage and if anything he is losing ground." Confused and politically dumb is what they're calling it in the "Wall Street Journal." Do you agree with that?
STEWART: No, I don't simply because if you look at the polling data he is neck and neck with the president and what we're seeing here is that the important issue here is what governor Romney made quite clear yesterday, his position on this is that like it or not, the board is in no disagreement in terms of what we have the power to do at this point is the Supreme Court has ruled this is a tax and we must move forward with that.
And he has always promised that when he is elected president on day one he will repeal and replace Obama care and that will begin with the waivers to all 50 states and working with both sides of Congress in order to come to an agreement on obviously repealing and replacing it but putting in its place free reforms on health care which is what the American people want.
O'BRIEN: I will argue with you and say I don't think anybody made it quite clear, and now it is confused and contradictory. But let's move on to what was done in the state of Massachusetts. Here is what Mitt Romney said to CBS News about the difference between what happened with the health care law that the Supreme Court was looking at and what he did in his state of Massachusetts. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Actually, the chief justice in his opinion made it very clear at the state level the states have the power to put in place mandates. 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 mandate, was a penalty, was described that way by the legislature and by me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: So Massachusetts is different he is saying than what has happened here nationally. But he is saying that he completely supports making people pay a penalty for not having insurance. If you're not personally responsible then you will pay for it. You're compelled to buy insurance. Is that a correct reading of that?
STEWART: The important distinction here is what he quoted from the argument from Chief Justice Roberts is that states have the policing power in order to issue mandates or penalties when it comes to health care. There is not the same kind of power on the federal level. And what the governor issued in Massachusetts was a plan that worked for Massachusetts. It is not a one-size-fits-all plan for the entire country and he made that quite clear. It worked in Massachusetts but it is not something that he has argued for on the national level. And that's the clear distinction. States have the policing power in order to do this where as chief justice Roberts made it clear that's not the way it works in terms of commerce on the national level.
O'BRIEN: Isn't mandated health care even at the state level something that Republicans as a whole would be against, right? If you have to, you compel people to buy insurance and penalize those who do not in a state, isn't that against what Republicans believe, a government mandate for health care?
STEWART: Republicans wanting more than anything is we want free market reforms. We want to get government out of in between the patient and their doctors. That's the kind of plan that Governor Romney wants to implement nationwide because that's what will work across the country. It was different for Massachusetts as opposed to the country and that's what he is saying time and time again.
O'BRIEN: I am sorry, forgive me for continuing to interrupt. This is very complicated. What was done in Massachusetts was inserting the government, right? Wasn't that a government insertion as a middle person into the free market of health care, correct?
STEWART: As he said, there is a tremendous need for health care reforms in Massachusetts and he put in place what worked in Massachusetts. It is not something that would work across the country.
O'BRIEN: Why not?
STEWART: What he said –
O'BRIEN: Why not?
STEWART: What we need it free market reforms across the country.
O'BRIEN: Why would that not work across the United States?
STEWART: It is not a one-size-fits-all plan. It worked in Massachusetts. There are different needs in every state across the country. And what he has said is we need free market reforms. We need to allow people to buy insurance across state lines, and he has already agreed and promised the American people what he plans to do will not only bring costs down and increase the choice and the quality of health care as opposed to the president who promised that health care costs would come down and quality would go up where that is certainly not been the case. He promised that costs would go down about $2,500 per person and we're already seeing it is 5,000 more per person as a result once this is implemented. The Congressional Budget Office said it will cost about 800,000 jobs. This is not only bad for quality of health care but bad for the economy.
O'BRIEN: After this was done there two tweets from two well- known business leaders, tweeting this. "Hope Mitt Romney is listening to Murdoch advice on campaign staff playing in a league with Chicago politicians and no room for amateurs." And the Murdoch tweet was "Tough Chicago pros will be hard to beat unless he drops old friends from team and hires real pros. Doubtful." What do you make of those tweets from these top business leaders?
STEWART: All you have to do it look at the polls.
O'BRIEN: What do you make of the tweets?
STEWART: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and they can certainly say whatever they want. And everyone wants to play arm chair quarterback. See it in every campaign I have ever worked with, people outside of the campaign think they understand how to run a campaign better than the next person. At the end of the day the proof is in the pudding. Governor Romney is running neck and neck with the president in many polls. And most importantly 73 percent of Americans say the economy and jobs is the number one issue in this campaign and trust that Governor Romney has a better solution and ideas in order to turn the economy around and create jobs. He is and also doing very well in independents and those are the people that will help decide this election. So things are doing well and the team he has in place is obviously doing well to put him in that position at this stage of the game.
O'BRIEN: Alice Stewart, always nice to have you. Thanks for being with us.