President Barack Obama's campaign spokesman said Thursday that Obama disagrees with the Supreme Court's characterization of his health care law's individual mandate as a tax.
Ben LaBolt, appearing on CNN's "Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien," said Obama still believes the fee assessed to people who choose not to obtain health insurance should be classified as a "penalty" rather than a "tax."
"You saw our arguments before the Supreme Court," LaBolt said. "You see what the president has said over the past several years that it's a penalty for that 1% of the population who can afford health insurance but hasn't chosen to get it."
Asked whether Obama "disagrees with the Supreme Court decision that says it's now a tax," LaBolt said "that's right."
"He's said it was a penalty," LaBolt continued. "You saw our arguments before the court."
LaBolt asserted that the government's lawyers never argued the penalty for not obtaining insurance was a "tax," despite the Court's ruling that it could only be upheld under Congress' taxation powers.
"At no point did any of the government lawyers say it was a tax," LaBolt said, arguing the Obama team was being consistent in comparison to their GOP rivals.
Following the Court's ruling, many Republicans immediately pointed to the "tax" argument as evidence the president had raised taxes on the middle class. Obama's rival for the White House, however, was initially slow to label the mandate a "tax." A senior adviser for Mitt Romney, who initiated a similar provision while governor of Massachusetts, labeled the fee a "penalty" earlier this week.
On Wednesday Romney made clear he viewed the penalty as a "tax," contradicting his adviser, and that it represented a broken pledge by Obama to not raise taxes on the middle class.
In transcripts of the case's oral arguments, however, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli very clearly indicated the individual mandate could be viewed as constitutional under Congress' powers of taxation.
Verrilli said the fee "is administered by the IRS, it is paid on your Form 1040 on April 15th."
Asked by associate justice Samuel Alito "can the mandate be viewed as a tax," Verrilli responded "I think it could."
Romney's campaign was quick to respond to LaBolt's comments Thursday.
"In a curious development, President Obama apparently disagrees with the Supreme Court ruling upholding his health care law. It's too bad he doesn't also see that Obamacare is bad policy and bad law. On day one of his presidency, Mitt Romney will begin the process of repealing and replacing Obamacare," Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg wrote.