Is President Obama's Affordable Healthcare Act fine a tax or a penalty? GOP sends mixed messages

The Republican confusion over what to call a fine in President Barack Obama's health care law gained little clarity Tuesday, as the party's chairman adamantly called the fee a "tax" the day after a senior Mitt Romney adviser insisted it was a "penalty."

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said on CNN's "Starting Point" that he, along with other Republicans, were calling it a "tax" because the Supreme Court ruled last week it was only constitutional if viewed that way.

"The Supreme Court has stated that Obamacare is a tax, and so since they have ruled that, it's a tax," Priebus said.

Priebus, attempting to put on a united front on Tuesday, said that he was asserting the same position as Romney.

"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," Priebus said.

Senior Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom didn't seem so sure on Monday.

In an interview on MSNBC, Fehrnstrom said Romney agrees with Obama that the individual mandate is no tax.

"He agreed with the dissent written by Justice Scalia which very clearly stated that the mandate was not a tax," Fehrnstrom said.

When pressed repeatedly if Romney agrees with Obama and Democrats that the penalty is no tax, Fehrnstrom eventually said, "That's correct."

Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg issued a statement Monday reiterating the point, writing "Governor Romney thinks it is an unconstitutional penalty."

"What is President Obama's position: is his federal mandate unconstitutional or is it a tax?" Henneberg continued.

Obama's chief of staff Jack Lew also asserted the fee was a "penalty" on Sunday, when he explained the "tax" versus "penalty" distinction to CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley.

"Well, actually, [the Supreme Court] didn't call it a tax," Jack Lew said on CNN's "State of the Union." "They said it was using a power under the Constitution that permits it. It was not labeled."

"And this is a penalty. It's something that only one percent of the people who could afford insurance who choose not to get it will pay," Lew continued.

Romney's position on Obama's health care law is complicated by the measure he passed as governor of Massachusetts, which included a mandate similar to Obama's on a state level.

While Republicans have been vocal about pointing to the penalty being termed a tax, his campaign has been careful to avoid being drawn into a comparison on the point.


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