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Special Report

All-Star Panel: Politics of mandate as a tax

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," June 28, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And I can make a firm pledge, under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase, not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you still make that promise to people today? 

OBAMA: I can still keep that promise because, as I said, about two- third of what we've proposed would be from money that's already in the health care system but just being spent badly. 

If your family earns less than $250,000 a year, a quarter million dollars a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime. I repeat -- not one single dime. 

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: President Obama repeated many times that the healthcare mandate, health care law was not a tax increase, absolutely rejecting that notion many times. Now the only reason that it is upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court is because it has been listed as a tax increase. We're back with the panel. The politics of this, how it plays, A.B.? 

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: Well, Republicans have retained the grassroots energy from opponents of health care reform. And this will be -- they will be engaged and this will be an incredible political benefit for Mitt Romney. This -- again, we are looking at a bunch of income taxes possibly being raised December 31 of this year. Republicans will certainly campaign against this as a tax increase. 

The one problem is for Republicans, is that if they spend too much time talking about health care, and the mandate, after the Fast and Furious investigation, and the fact that the court has ruled that the mandate was constitutional, under the commerce clause -- I mean under the power to tax. There is going to be a voter who maybe wasn't of a strong opinion on this who says when are they just going to shut up and start talking about the economy again? There is a little bit of a risk of overreaching and seeming once again like you have taken your focus off of jobs. 

BAIER: But we're hearing that from Democrats today, it's time to move on.  "Move on" was the phrase we heard repeatedly, Charles. 

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: But that's, of course, absurd. The law hasn't even taken effect. How can you abandon an argument about a law that is about to impact everybody's life? So I think it's a very strong Republican argument. I think yes, Obama has a victory today, the prestige is raised.  He doesn't crash and burn. However he now has an issue on his hands which was extremely strong in defeating the Republicans in 2010 -- 

BAIER: The Democrats in 2010 

KRAUTHAMMER: -- I'm sorry, the Democrats in 2010. Yes, the intensity is less, and, yes, the effect is less. However, the Republicans have a very strong argument. It isn't only that it's going to raise your taxes. It's the bigger, the larger argument about Obama expanding government, expanding the debt, expanding spending in a way that is unconscionable to a lot of Americans.  And that I think is going to be the central argument. That hasn't changed.  Yes, Romney had instituted something like it, in Massachusetts, but elections are about the future, not the past. Romney says I'll abolish it on day one. That is still a very strong argument. 

BAIER: Jeff, what about this argument that Republicans, many of them have taken it today and said if the president had said this is a tax from the very beginning, or if Democrats had sold that, it would have gone down in flames in the Senate. It just wouldn't have had support. So is it disingenuous, then, to pass a bill on something that it's not and then it really is?

JEFF ZELENY, NEW YORK TIMES: I guess it wasn't disingenuous at the time. But you're right.  Senator Ben Nelson from Nebraska would not have been the 60th vote had it been a tax. He would not have been joined by Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, or Mark Pryor of Arkansas, or Claire McCaskill of Missouri, on and on and on. So I think at the time it was not presented as that.

I think you probably have to take the president at his word in those interviews because it would have been politically risky for them to sort of present this as a tax. This was just as we said in the earlier panel, this was Chief Justice Roberts looking for an endgame here. And you know, who knows what he had on his mind? He knew that this ruling would be interpreted as it's being interpreted, so a short-term gain. We don't know how this will play out between now and November. 

The one sort of challenge for Governor Romney is he is not probably the strongest messenger to make the argument of a tax here. Because he has a very similar situation in Massachusetts. He did not use the argument that other Republicans on the Hill were using today. He just said simply elect me, repeal Obamacare. But once -- if this becomes a full-on argument about is this a tax or not, he is going to again be tripped up by the Massachusetts mandate. 

BAIER: Judge? 

NAPOLITANO: I think this is a gift to Governor Romney. I think this will drive Republicans toward -- conservatives toward him, many of whom had some doubts about him. I have a few friends with whom I communicate on Twitter and Facebook from time to time. These are very small government people. They are beside themselves over this. And may actually take a look at Governor Romney because they don't want President Obama to be in office and to implement this. If he plays it right, he will draw a lot of votes that he otherwise might not have gotten. 

BAIER: The Romney campaign is already citing the millions that have come in since the vote came in. 

KRAUTHAMMER: I think it does help him. I don't think people are interested in what he did in Massachusetts. This is about intrusiveness of government, this is the best example of it. And that's the arguments with which Republicans are going to win if they're going to win in November. 

BAIER: Up next, the Eric Holder contempt vote.    

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