ObamaCare ruling leaves 2012 candidates taking unexpected sides

One week after the landmark Supreme Court ruling on the health care overhaul, the 2012 presidential candidates have each carved out a peculiar stance -- with Mitt Romney accepting the ruling's central argument and President Obama rejecting it.

The court ruled that the individual mandate requiring most Americans to buy health insurance was only constitutional if the fine for not buying insurance was deemed a tax. While Republicans disagreed with the ultimate outcome of the case -- that is, the law being upheld -- Romney ultimately said Wednesday he accepts the high court's finding that the fine is a "tax."

Yet Obama, while heralding the court decision as a victory for all Americans, has come down definitively against the high court's rationale for that decision.

Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt made the president's position clear Thursday, when he was asked in an interview whether Obama "disagrees with the Supreme Court decision that says it's now a tax."

"That's right," LaBolt said on CNN. "He said that it's a penalty."

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Obama aides had earlier said the president still views the fine as a "penalty," but this was the first time an aide said the president actually disagreed with the court's opinion.

Romney's campaign, which has taken heat in recent days for issuing a string of contradictory remarks on the subject, quickly seized on LaBolt's comments.

"In a curious development, President Obama apparently disagrees with the Supreme Court ruling upholding his health care law," Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said in a statement. "It's too bad he doesn't also see that ObamaCare is bad policy and bad law."

She reiterated that Romney would start the process of repealing the law on "Day One of his presidency."

The flurry of statements and clarifications from both campaigns has attracted almost as much coverage as the impact of the decision itself.

Republicans have decided to accept the court's argument that the fine is a tax for obvious reasons -- it allows them to batter the president for allegedly breaking a promise not to raise taxes on the middle class. Obama's aides, in rejecting the court's logic, are surely wary of precisely that scenario.

Romney, with his latest clarification, made clear that the campaign will continue to wield the tax attack against Obama in the months to come -- as part of its multi-pronged argument against the health care law.

Romney's comments Wednesday, though, marked the second time in three days that the campaign has attempted to clarify its position.

Top campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said Monday the candidate thinks the consequence for not purchasing mandated insurance is a penalty. Fehrnstrom said that position is the same one Romney took on a similar fine under the statewide health-care initiative he instituted as Massachusetts governor.

Hours after Fehrnstrom's comment, the campaign issued a statement saying Romney considers the fine an "unconstitutional penalty" rather than a tax.

Romney on Wednesday changed the campaign position, saying: "The majority of the court said it's a tax, therefore it's a tax."

If nothing else, the clarifications are providing daily fodder for the presidential rivals. After Romney's interview Wednesday, Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner mocked the campaign's conflicting statements, and drew renewed attention to the similar mandate fine Romney instituted as Massachusetts governor.

"Mitt 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.  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," he said.