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Obama camp: Mandate a penalty, not a tax

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President Obama’s re-election campaign said Thursday the individual mandate in his health care law is a “penalty,” not a tax — though Mr. Obama’s own Solicitor General argued in March the law was constitutional under Congress’s taxing authority.

“It never referred to it as a tax,” campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said on CNN. “It said that it was a penalty. And that’s under the section of the law that is the tax code, but it said very specifically that it’s a penalty.”

The administration’s primary argument to the court — which a majority rejected — was that the law was constitutional under Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce. But Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. also argued the law was constitutional under Congress’s taxing authority — an argument that five of the nine justices ultimately agreed with.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what we’re calling this; we’ve consistent about what it is — it’s a penalty on the one percent who aren’t getting health care who can afford to do it,” deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said on MSNBC. “Now contrast that with Mitt Romney — it’s a tax, it’s a penalty. … He just needs to figure out what it is on his end; we’re pretty clear on our end.”

Mr. Romney said Wednesday that “the Supreme Court has spoken” in upholding the law based on Congress’s taxing powers, saying “it is a tax.” But on Monday, advisor Eric Fehrnstrom said Mr. Romney agreed with the court’s dissent, which said that the individual mandate requiring most Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a fine is a penalty, and not a tax.

Former Vermont Gov. and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said on MSNBC that Mr. Romney’s situation “has been pretty much a disaster.”

“Not because the press secretary and the candidate are disagreeing — that’s not good — but what’s really bad from [Romney’s] point of view is … every single day this goes on, it’s a day he’s losing traction in the presidential race, and he doesn’t have a lot to lose,” he said.

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