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Romney Camp Sides with Obama that Health Insurance Mandate is Not Tax

Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign on Monday rejected a Republican attack on the Affordable Care Act, repudiating a contention made in last week’s Supreme Court decision that the law’s requirement that individuals carry medical coverage amounts to a tax.

The Romney team’s refusal to invoke the word “tax” with regard to the individual mandate puts the candidate at odds with others in his party at a moment when Republicans are attempting to capi­tal­ize on the Supreme Court’s decision, which deemed President Obama’s health-care law constitutional. Some Republican-led states are trying to thwart the legislation’s effort to cover the poor.

In an interview Monday on MSNBC, Romney campaign senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said the former Massachusetts governor “disagrees with the court’s ruling that the mandate was a tax.”

Although disappointing to conservatives, the justices’ decision contained what they regard as two silver linings: the potential to fuel political opposition to the law and a path to undermine its substance.

First, in ruling that Congress has the ability under its taxation power to fine people who choose not to have health coverage, the court undercut Obama’s credibility on how to define that provision. The president had insisted repeatedly that it is not a tax.

Republicans and their allies seized on that part of the decision and are running ads that highlight it.

“The president said it was not a tax,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.” “The Supreme Court, which has the final say, says it is a tax.”

Second, the court overturned a part of the law that would allow the federal government to take away Medicaid funding from states that do not expand their programs to cover everyone earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

The new law offers federal funding to foot nearly the entire bill for adding those newly eligible to the Medicaid rolls. But in a move that threatens to undercut the law’s goal of covering those who lack health insurance, the Republican governors of at least four states — Florida,Iowa,Louisiana and South Carolina — have said that they probably will turn down that additional money from Washington rather than broaden their Medicaid eligibility.

Romney’s resistance to calling the individual mandate a tax reflects an awkward history that has dogged his presidential campaign: Although he decries the federal health-care law and vows to lead an effort to repeal it if he is elected, Romney championed and signed very similar legislation when he was governor of Massachusetts.

As the federal law does, the 2006 Massachusetts law imposed a fine on people who refused to buy health coverage. And as Obama does, Romney insisted that it was not a tax. He referred to it as a “penalty” and an “incentive.”

That Fehrnstrom continued to hew to that language with regard to the federal law had the campaign scrambling to explain a position that is at odds with a new favorite talking point of many GOP leaders.

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