WASHINGTON -- Although the Supreme Court handed President Barack Obama a victory by upholding the Affordable Care Act, the Obama campaign made clear on Thursday morning that it still disagrees with Chief Justice John Roberts' ruling that characterized the individual mandate as a tax.
"The difference between the Obama administration -- and the president -- and Mitt Romney is that we've been consistent," said Stephanie Cutter, Obama's deputy campaign manager, on MSNBC. "This is a penalty administered through the tax code. It's a penalty of less than 1 percent of the American public who can afford to get health care but choose not to get it."
On Wednesday, Romney had told CBS News that he believes the individual mandate imposes a tax -- rather than a penalty -- on individuals who choose not to purchase health insurance.
"[The Supreme Court justices] have spoken," said Romney. "And there's no way around that. You can try and say you wish they decided a different way, but they didn't. They concluded it was a tax. That's what it is."
The presumptive Republican nominee's statement represented a sharp break from what his senior adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, had said a few days earlier, when Fehrnstrom told MSNBC that Romney "disagrees with the court's ruling that the mandate was a tax."
On Thursday, MSNBC host Chuck Todd accused the Obama campaign of essentially flip-flopping the same way that it was accusing Romney of doing.
"He seems to be reluctantly saying, 'Well, the Supreme Court said it's a tax so, fine, it's a tax.' But then he says his own -- it's not what it is in Massachusetts. It was a penalty," said Todd, referencing the very similar health care plan enacted in Massachusetts during Romney's tenure as governor.
The Republican National Committee also charged the Obama campaign with being disingenuous in its attacks on Romney, pointing to Solicitor General Donald Verrilli's arguments before the Supreme Court during which he said the individual mandate was "justifiable under its [Congress'] tax power."
While Verrilli did make that argument, he never said that the administration thought the mandate imposed a tax. Rather he contended -- as Cutter did on MSNBC on Thursday -- that it was a penalty administered under the tax code.
From the transcript of Verrilli's argument:
JUSTICE SCALIA: Is it a tax or not a tax? The president didn't think it was.
VERRILLI: The president said it wasn't a tax increase because it ought to be understood as an incentive to get people to have insurance. I don't think it's fair to infer from that anything about whether that is an exercise of the tax power or not.
Verrilli also distinguished between taxes and penalties under the tax code, saying that if penalties do "raise revenue, they are exercises of the taxing power, but their purpose is not to raise revenue. Their purpose is to discourage behavior."
Obama officials have not really embraced the Supreme Court's decision on the tax issue. Even in his initial statement after the ruling, the president never said he agreed with it. Rather, he said, "Whatever the politics, today's decision was a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure because of this law and the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold it."
“In a curious development, President Obama apparently disagrees with the Supreme Court ruling upholding his health care law," said Amanda Henneberg, spokeswoman for the Romney campaign. "It’s too bad he doesn’t also see that Obamacare is bad policy and bad law. On day one of his presidency, Mitt Romney will begin the process of repealing and replacing Obamacare."
View the entire interview below:
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