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Romney contradicts top adviser, says healthcare law's mandate ‘is a tax’

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney attempted to clarify his campaign's position on the individual mandate, calling the provision a “tax” days after his top adviser said otherwise.

“The Supreme Court has spoken and while I agreed with the dissent, that's taken over by the fact that the majority of the court said that it's a tax and therefore it is a tax," said Romney in an interview aired Wednesday on “CBS This Evening.” 

Romney’s comments followed criticism from Republican leaders after his adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, called the individual mandate a penalty during an interview Monday.

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Fehrnstrom’s remark conflicted with the emerging GOP attempt to characterize the mandate, which was upheld along with much of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act by the Supreme Court last week as part of a tax increase from the president. 

Republicans rallied around that argument after Chief Justice John Roberts, in the court’s landmark ruling, found the healthcare mandate constitutional, stemming from Congress’s taxing powers. 

The ruling, however, has placed the Romney campaign in a difficult situation, as the mandate is similar to healthcare reforms the presumptive GOP nominee instituted as Massachusetts governor. While Romney says that he never intended for Massachusetts’s reforms to be implemented nationally, the Obama campaign has hit him on the issue, suggesting his policies were the blueprint for Democrats’ own healthcare law.

In his CBS interview, Romney stressed that he agreed with the dissent’s opinion that the law was not a tax, but that his views were overruled by the court’s majority opinion.

"Well, I said that I agreed with the dissent," said Romney, "and the dissent made it very clear that they thought it was unconstitutional, but the dissent lost, it’s in the minority.

“So, now, they have spoken," he added, "There's no way around that. You can try and say you wish they'd decided a different way, but they didn't."

Romney proceeded to hammer Obama, saying that the president had broken a campaign pledge to not raise taxes on middle-class families.

“They concluded it was a tax, that's what it is and the American people know that President Obama has broken the pledge he made,” he said.

“He [Obama] said he wouldn't raise taxes on middle-income Americans. Not only did he raise the $500 billion that was already in the bill, it’s now clear that his mandate as described by the Supreme Court is a tax.”

Romney also repeated his assertion that the mandate was a tax while shaking hands with voters during a Fourth of July parade in New Hampshire Wednesday.

Asked by an onlooker if “it’s still a tax,” Romney responded, “it is, I agree.” 

Since the healthcare ruling, Republicans have hammered the individual mandate provision as a tax. On Sunday, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Obama was guilty of hypocrisy.

"The president ... said this is not a tax. Then he sent his solicitor general to the Supreme Court to argue that it is a tax in order to get this past the Supreme Court," Ryan said. 

Democrats, though, have insisted that it is a penalty on those who, while able to afford health insurance, refuse to purchase it.

"The court found it constitutional. ... Frankly, what you call it is not the issue," countered White House Chief of Staff Jacob Lew on Sunday.


—Adele Hampton contributed

This story was updated at 3:50 p.m.