Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on Tuesday doubled down on his contention that President Barack Obama's health care law is a tax, despite an equally strong contention from GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney's campaign that it is a penalty and not a tax.
"It's not academic," Priebus said of the tax versus penalty debate, in an interview with The Huffington Post. "I don't think it's academic because there is no other conclusion, other than the conclusion that it's a tax. There is no other conclusion. Is someone else's authority more powerful than the Supreme Court? It's a tax."
The Romney campaign has said consistently since Monday that Affordable Care Act is a penalty, not a tax. Romney signed a health care overhaul when he was governor of Massachusetts that included an individual mandate similar to Obama's national law, and Romney wants to avoid the tax-raiser label at all costs, even if it means foregoing an easy political attack on the president.
But Priebus made clear Tuesday that the RNC will engage in no such abstention. He tried to argue that his statements didn't contradict those of Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, who said Monday that despite the Supreme Court ruling last week that the Affordable Care Act "may reasonably be characterized as a tax," Romney thinks differently.
Romney "disagrees with the court's ruling that the mandate was a tax," Fehrnstrom said.
Priebus told CNN on Tuesday morning that the RNC's "position is the same as Mitt Romney's position: it's a tax."
Speaking with HuffPost, Priebus said he, like Romney, disagrees with the court's ruling that the law is constitutional under the federal government's taxing powers. But that "doesn't matter," he said.
"I don't like the decision. I personally agree with the dissent," Priebus told HuffPost. "I don't agree with the solicitor general and the majority of the court that believe that somehow something you don't own can be a tax. But my point is, that's great. That's Reince's opinion. But it doesn't matter.
"The point is that the Supreme Court has ruled and whether I agree with the dissent or not doesn't matter. The court has ruled, and under the Constitution the court has the last say, and it's tax," Priebus said. "So therefore the court agreed with Obama's lawyer that it's a tax, I understand that it's a tax, I accept that as the law of the land that it's a tax and therefore it's a tax."
Priebus indicated that Fehrnstrom may have gotten tangled up in a complicated legal argument instead of sticking to the basic political argument focused on the court's ruling.
"We can go around and around and around. That's my point. And my own opinion, that's where Eric is having this kind of conversation," Priebus said. "But the conclusion is in the end it's a tax, and the Supreme Court has ruled it a tax."
Romney's campaign -- either by choice or by necessity following Fehrnstrom's comments -- is aligning its political argument with its legal point of view, saying the candidate disagrees with the ruling and continues to believe the law is an unconstitutional penalty, not a constitutional tax.