New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) broke with the Romney campaign's official line on Tuesday morning, saying he believes the individual mandate at the heart of the Affordable Care Act is both a tax and a penalty.
"I've thought all along that it was a tax," Christie, a top Romney surrogate, said on "Fox and Friends." "And I don't think it's exclusively a tax or a penalty -- it's both."
On Monday, Mitt Romney's senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said the mandate is not a tax, as many Republicans have been stating since the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate as constitutional under Congress' power to levy taxes.
"The governor believes that what we put in place in Massachusetts was a penalty and he disagrees with the court's ruling that the mandate was a tax," Fehrnstrom said.
The tax line is an uncomfortable one for Romney. His signature health care reform legislation in Massachusetts also had an individual mandate, which could be construed as a tax. But defining his reform as a tax increase is something the presumptive GOP presidential nominee wants to avoid. At the same time, however, Republicans are eager to turn their Supreme Court loss into a win by attacking President Barack Obama as a tax-raiser.
While Christie disagreed with Fehrnstrom, he said that the statements of campaign staffers are not nearly as important as those of the candidate.
"You know why they're spokespeople and not candidates? You just saw that reason," Christie said, refusing to say whether Fehrnstrom misspoke. "I'm not even going to evaluate whether it was a mistake or not. It doesn't matter to me."
On CNN's "Starting Point" Tuesday morning, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus also disagreed with Fehrnstrom. "The Supreme Court has stated that Obamacare is a tax, and so since they have ruled that, it's a tax," he said.
At the same time, Priebus argued that there was no difference between the RNC's position and Romney's. "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."