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UPDATE: And now we’ve come full circle in all the “penalty” vs “tax” talk. Mitt Romney has spoken and clearly affirmed that the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate is a tax, directly contradicting his senior adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, who had said earlier this week that it was a penalty. Romney tried to explain the contradiction by noting in an interview with CBS News that it was all about the Supreme Court's majority opinion. “While I agreed with the dissent, that's taken over by the fact that the majority of the court said it's a tax, and therefore it is a tax. They have spoken. There's no way around that,” Romney said.
When Romney was asked whether the fact that he was unequivocally calling the mandate a tax meant he had changed positions on the issue, the Republican focused on President Obama, saying he “has broken the pledge he made” because “it’s now clear that his mandate, as described by the Supreme Court, is a tax.”
Obama’s campaign, however, quickly seized the opportunity to say that Romney “contradicted his own campaign, and himself,” reports the Washington Post.
Tuesday, July 3: One thing is clear the wake of last week’s Supreme Court ruling on the 2010 health care law: Republicans don’t like it. They just can’t agree on what to call it.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus made it clear this morning that the GOP would not be backing away from its claim that the mandate is a "tax" just because the party's presidential candidate doesn't quite agree.
"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 told CNN Tuesday morning.
Priebus resumed the approach already championed by congressional Republicans despite being at odds with the Romney camp's insistence that the law is really more of a “penalty” than a “tax.” He did try to say that no such difference really exists. "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 it did in order to make it constitutional," Priebus said.
If only it were that easy. Romney’s line of attack on the Obamacare ruling is clouded by his own health care record, particularly that he backed an individual mandate while governor of Massachusetts, which perhaps, as the Atlantic points out, is why the Republican candidate seems to be sidestepping the issue to continue his hard-line attack on the president’s record on the ailing economy.
In short, if Obama is a raiser of taxes because of the individual mandate, than Romney is too, aptly summarizes the Associated Press.
Monday, July 2: The White House seemed to get an unlikely ally in its position that the mandate under the health care law is not a tax but a penalty: Mitt Romney. While Republicans have been tripping over themselves in recent days to highlight that the Supreme Court’s ruling said the health care mandate is valid as an exercise in the government’s power to tax, their presidential candidate doesn’t seem to agree, reports the Washington Post.
“The governor disagreed with the ruling of the court. He agreed with the dissent that was written by Justice Scalia that very clearly said that the mandate was not a tax,” Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior adviser to Romney, said on MSNBC. “The governor believes what we put in place in Massachusetts was a penalty, and he disagrees with the court’s ruling that the mandate was a tax.”
What may seem as nothing but a “squabble over semantics” really serves to illustrate just how difficult it will be for Romney to follow Republican talking points on health care considering the similarities to the plan he approved when he was governor, points out the Wall Street Journal.
The words would have likely raised eyebrows regardless, but more are paying attention to the issue considering it came after a weekend when Republicans repeated over and over again that even though the health care law is constitutional, it amounts to a tax that will hit middle-class families, points out the New York Times.
Democrats quickly moved to take advantage of Fehrnstrom’s remarks, and the Democratic National Committee had distributed video of the comments within an hour, notes the Hill.