Mitt Romney says health care penalty is a tax

WASHINGTON—Mitt Romney Wednesday reversed the position staked out by his own campaign just two days before and said the penalty levied against Americans who do not buy health insurance under President Obama’s health care overhaul is ``a tax.’’

The Supreme Court ruled last week that the enforcement mechanism for the individual mandate in the 2010 health care expansion—a penalty payment made to the Internal Revenue Service—qualifies as a tax.

On Monday, Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said Romney did not agree that it was a tax, and considered it a penalty. The distinction is politically important because the former Republican governor imposed a similar levy on Massachusetts residents who do not obtain health insurance as part of the Bay State’s landmark health care overhaul.

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In an interview with CBS news Wednesday, Romney made a startling reversal of Fehrnstrom’s statements. While not addressing Fehrnstrom’s remarks directly, he said he accepts that the penalty, as determined by the Supreme Court, is a tax.

``The majority of the court said it is a tax, therefore it is a tax. The majority has spoken,’’ Romney said. “There is no way around that.’’

He said he believes Obama broke a pledge not to raise taxes on the middle class.

The interview was done as Romney vacations in Wolfeboro, N.H. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee participated in the town’s July 4 parade.

Shaking hands along the parade route, Romney was told by someone in the crowd that the health care penalty was a tax.

“I agree,’’ Romney replied.

The change puts Romney in step with Republicans who have been hammering Obama over the Supreme Court’s tax determination. But it also leaves Romney open to counter-charges that he imposed a new tax on Massachusetts residents as governor. Romney did not address that question in the CBS interview.

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