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Romney: Health care mandate is a tax

Charles Dharapak / AP

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, accompanied by his Ann, address a crowd after they walked in the Fourth of July Parade in Wolfeboro, N.H., Wednesday. At right is son Craig Romney.

WOLFEBORO, N.H.-- Mitt Romney contradicted a top aide to his campaign and aligned himself instead with the Republican establishment in labeling the health care mandate a tax, not a penalty, as Democrats have contended.

"Now the Supreme Court has spoken and while I agreed with the dissent, that’s taken over by the fact that the majority of the court said it’s a tax," Romney said in an interview Wednesday with CBS. "Therefore it is a tax. They have spoken. There’s no way around that.  You can try and say you wish they’d decided a different way, but they didn't. They concluded it’s a tax. That’s what it is."

Romney's description of the health care mandate as a tax aligns his position with that of GOP leaders, who have for days used the Supreme Court's majority decision upholding the law under Congress's taxation authority as a cudgel with which to attack Democrats and the president as having raised taxes.

Earlier this week, Romney senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom took a position in an interview with NBC's Chuck Todd that the mandate should be labeled a fee or a penalty, not a tax, and repeating again that Romney agreed with the Supreme Court's dissenting opinion, written by Antonin Scalia, that the mandate should be considered a penalty or fee and would therefore be unconstitutional.

By stating that the mandate is indeed a tax, Romney can now join a chorus of Republican leaders in attacking the president for what he claims was breaking a central pledge of Obama's candidacy -- not to raise taxes on middle-income Americans. But in doing so, he opens himself up to a similar attack: that the mandate in the health care law he passed in Massachusetts was also a tax.

"The American people know that President Obama has broken the pledge he made," Romney said in the CBS interview. "He said he wouldn’t raise taxes on middle-income Americans."

President Obama greeted new US citizens at the White House on the Fourth of July, while Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney addressed supporters in New Hampshire. NBC's Kristen Welker reports.

Wednesday morning's interview was Romney's first public appearance in several days, as the candidate took the weekend off to vacation at his summer home here on Lake Winnepesaukee. Romney was joined here by all five of his sons and their children, filling his lakeside compound to the brim with activity over several days of boating, volleyball and at least one meeting with top campaign aides on the house's back deck. 

That meeting, attended by campaign manager Matt Rhoades and senior adviser Beth Myers, who heads Romney's vice presidential search effort, has fueled speculation that Romney may be close to picking a number two on the ticket.

Wednesday, Romney took part in the Wolfeboro Independence Day parade, along with most of his family and with Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), who is considered by many political analysts to be on Romney's vice presidential short list. If parade-goers were looking for clues to the candidate's intentions or to hear policy discussed, they may have come away disappointed.

Instead, the attitude along the parade route through Main street was patriotic and festive, with the candidate criss-crossing the street to shake hands with supporters, snap photos and guzzle lemonade from a roadside stand. At the parade's conclusion at Brewster Academy, which overlooks the lake, Romney praised the "fighting men and women around the world continue to inspire me," and gave brief remarks saluting America on her birthday.

"I love this country," Romney said. "I love the people who have built this country."