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Wolfeboro, N.H. - Mitt Romney said Wednesday that President Obama's signature health care law amounts to a tax increase for middle-income Americans, directly contradicting one of his senior advisers who said earlier this week that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee believed it was a penalty and not a tax.
Getting in line with a recent GOP talking point, Romney said in an interview with CBS News that he accepts the Supreme Court's ruling last week upholding the Obama law as constitutional by calling the individual mandate a tax, saying "that's what it is" and adding that there was "no way around" the majority's decision.
"While I agreed with the dissent, that's taken over by the fact that the majority of the court said it's a tax, and therefore it is a tax," Romney told CBS. "They have spoken. There is no way around that. You could try and say you wish they had decided a different way, but they didn't. They concluded it was a tax, that's what it is, and the America people know that President Obama has broken the pledge he made. He said he wouldn't raise taxes on middle-income Americans."
Romney made the comments in an interview he taped here Wednesday morning with CBS correspondent Jan Crawford before marching in a Fourth of July parade in Wolfeboro, where he is spending the week vacationing with his family at their lakefront compound. CBS released a portion of interview mid-day Wednesday, but has not yet provided the interview in full.
This was Romney's first public comment on the subject since one of his senior advisers, Eric Fehrnstrom, said on Monday that Romney "disagrees with the court's ruling that the mandate was a tax." Fehrnstrom's comments stood in contrast to the statements of most other Republican leaders, who had seized on the ruling that the law was a "tax" to open a fresh line of attack against the Affordable Care Act.
Obama's campaign issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying Romney "contradicted his own campaign, and himself."
"First, he threw his top aide Eric Fehrnstrom under the bus by changing his campaign's position and calling the free rider penalty in the President's health care law - which requires those who can afford it to buy insurance - a tax," Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner said in a statement. "Second, he contradicted himself by saying his own Massachusetts mandate wasn't a tax - but, Romney has called the individual mandate he implemented in Massachusetts a tax many times before. Glad we cleared all that up."
Romney's change in position Wednesday highlights the former Massachusetts governor's awkward history on health care. Romney pledges to push for full repeal of Obama's federal health law, but championed and signed very similar state legislation when he was governor.
The Massachusetts law, like Obama's federal law, imposed a fine on people who refused to buy health coverage. Romney had called that a "penalty," not a "tax," and Fehrnstrom continued to use the same language when discussing the federal law in an interview Monday on MSNBC.