While congressional Republicans have seized on the Supreme Court's ruling that President Obama's health care overhaul is constitutional as a tax, presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's top campaign strategist undercut that line of argument Monday, saying that the governor agrees with Mr. Obama that the law is not a tax.
"The governor has consistently described the mandate in Massachusetts as a penalty," Eric Fehrnstrom, Mr. Romney's strategist, said on MSNBC. "The governor disagreed with the ruling of the court; he agreed with the dissent that was written by Justice Scalia, which clearly states the mandate was not a tax."
During the congressional debate Mr. Obama and his allies repeatedly said the punishment levied against those who fail to obtain health insurance was a penalty, not a tax. During the court battle, however, his legal team switched and said it was, in fact, a tax — and a majority of the court agreed, saying that made it constitutional.
But after the ruling Mr. Obama switched back, saying it isn't a tax after all.
Republicans on Capitol Hill and in the states gleefully seized on the majority's opinion, saying it will bolster their arguments for repeal as they face voters this November.
"I think it constitutes a tax because that's what the Supreme Court says," Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert said on MSNBC shortly after Mr. Fehrnstrom's remarks. "I've always believed it was unconstitutional because it was sold to us as a Commerce Clause mandate."
Mr. Romney's campaign undercuts that attack.
Instead of the tax argument, Mr. Fehrstrom said they will demand Mr. Obama be held accountable for the conflicting statements on whether the mandate is a penalty or a tax.
Mr. Fehrnstrom also said that the campaign has raised $6.7 million online and attracted more than 70,000 donations in the days following Thursday's ruling.
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