Message indiscipline

    In a slow news week, the health reform issue continues to burn fast and furiously. The latest hijinks occurred yesterday, when Mitt Romney’s senior adviser went on TV and decimated the new Republican message against Obamacare.How can the GOP successfully attack the president’s signature law, and sway swing voters to Romney in the process, if Romney himself won’t even endorse the latest attack line?As you surely know by now, the main gripe now is the law’s key provision that slaps a tax/penalty/fee on Americans who refuse to purchase health coverage. Chief Justice John Roberts, in his ruling that upheld Obamacare, found this provision to be constitutional, citing Congress’ power to tax. In response, the GOP has predictably conflated the noncompliance levy into “a massive tax on the middle class.” The truth, of course, is something entirely different – the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says that only one percent of Americans will pay the fee in 2016 – but, hey, we’re deep into the political season, where fact is typically trumped by assertion.And the Republicans, those masters of assertion, love to play the tax card.The problem, however, is that their own nominee is refusing to play.That’s because Romney’s Massachusetts health reform law similarly features a health purchase mandate – and a stiff fee for noncompliance. A fee that’s nearly twice as large as Obama’s fee. A fee that the Romney campaign refuses to characterize as a tax.Which brings us to the Romney aide’s appearance yesterday on MSNBC. Host Chuck Todd, referring to the Massachusetts noncompliance provision, asked Eric Fehrnstrom: “Was it a tax or a penalty?”Fehrnstrom: “The governor has consistently described the mandate in Massachusetts as a penalty.”Todd: “The governor does not believe the mandate is a tax? That is what you’re saying.”Fehrnstrom: “The governor believes that what we put in place in Massachusetts was a penalty, and he disagrees with the (Supreme Court’s) ruling that the (Obamacare) mandate was a tax.”Todd: “So he agrees with the president that…you should call it a penalty or a fee or a fine?”Fehrnstrom: “That’s correct.”Way to undercut your own party! Talk about message indiscipline – here’s the GOP trying to crank up the T-word, yet the GOP nominee is trying to shut it down.This is quite a dilemma. If the Republicans persist in trying to attack the Obamacare mandate as a tax, then they’ll basically have to admit that the Romneycare mandate has a tax, that their own nominee was a tax hiker. And if they try to defend Romneycare and insist that its noncompliance provision is not a tax, then they have to absolve Obamacare as well.The Republican solution, for now, is to simply dive for cover. Witness the fun moment on Fox News Sunday, when host Chris Wallace said to Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, “You didn’t answer my direct question. If the Obama mandate is a tax on the middle class, is the Romney mandate a tax on the middle class?” McConnell’s response: “Well, I think Governor Romney will have to speak for himself about what was done in Massachusetts.”Way to undercut your own nominee! Clearly, McConnell and other party leaders are peeved that their nominee is an albatross on the health care issue. How can they breathe fire with the T-word if Romney is hosing them down?It’s absolutely true that President Obama played spin games with health reform back in 2009, when he publicly denied that the noncompliance provision was a tax – only to have his lawyers tell the Supreme Court that the law was constitutional because the provision was a tax. But Romney, thanks to his fine work in Massachusetts, foils his own party on this issue. He dilutes the new party talking point. He can’t wield the T-word against Obama without turning it on himself.——-I’m off the grid tomorrow. Have a great holiday in the extreme heat (gee, climate change deniers have been very quiet lately), and I’ll see you on the flip side.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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