Romney clarifies health care mandate position

(CBS News) WOLFEBORO, N.H. - Mitt Romney tried to clear up the confusion about where he stands on President Obama's health care reform. Two days ago, his campaign spokesman said the requirement that every American buy health insurance is a penalty, not a tax. But on Wednesday, the candidate shifted his position.

Romney has come under fire since the Supreme Court's decision because his position on this tax issue has been at odds with every Republican, that of course they're saying that the health care law is a massive tax hike. But Wednesday, in his first interview since the Supreme Court decision, Romney tried to clear things up. CBS News correspondent Jan Crawford interviewed the GOP presidential hopeful at his vacation home. A transcript follows:

Romney: Well, the Supreme Court has the final word. And their final word is that Obamacare is a tax. So it's a tax. They decided it was constitutional. So it is a tax and it's constitutional. That's the final word. That's what it is.

Crawford: Have you changed your views on this? Do you now believe that it is a tax at the federal level, that the Supreme Court has said it's a tax? So it is a tax?

Romney: Well, I said that I agreed with the dissent, and the dissent made it very clear that they felt it was unconstitutional. But the dissent lost. It's in the minority. And so now the Supreme Court has spoken.

Romney: Individual mandate "is a tax"

There's now way around that. You can try and say you wished they would have decided in a different way, but they didn't. They concluded it was a tax. That's what it is. And the American people know that President Obama has broken the pledge he made. He said he wouldn't raise taxes on middle-income Americans. Not only did he raise the $500 billion that was already in the bill, it's now clear that his mandate, as described by the Supreme Court, is a tax.

Crawford: But does that mean the mandate in the state of Massachusetts under your health care law also is a tax, and that you raised taxes as governor?

Romney: Actually the chief justice, in his opinion, made it very clear that at the state level, states have the power to put in place mandates. They don't need to require them to be called taxes in order for them to be constitutional. And as a result, Massachusetts' mandate was a mandate, was a penalty, was described that way by the legislature and by me. And so it stays as it was.

Crawford: So at the state level, you're saying the Supreme Court says that's different? That the federal government--

Romney: They made it very clear.

Crawford : -- the powers are different between the states and the federal government? Does that make sense to you?

Romney: Well, just take a read of the opinion. The chief justice said that states have what's known as police power. And states can implement penalties and mandates and so forth under their constitutions, which is what Massachusetts did. But the federal government does not have those powers. And therefore, for the Supreme Court to reach the conclusion it did, that the law was constitutional, they had to find it was a tax and they did. And therefore, Obamacare's a tax. Like it or not, it's a tax.

A short portion of this interview was posted online right after it happened, and the Obama campaign fired back immediately. They accused Romney of not only contradicting his campaign, but his earlier statements on the issue.

As for a previous report that Chief Justice John Roberts changed his mind in the Supreme Court ruling, Romney was asked about that. He said it made it look like the decision wasn't based on the Constitution, that maybe it was political and that the Court was concerned about the Court and its relationship with the other branches. He said that's something that only the chief justice will know, and if and when he decides to tell us could be sometime way in the future.

There is more of Jan Crawford's interview with Mitt and Ann Romney on Thursday July 5 airing on "CBS This Morning." Check your local listings.

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    Jan Crawford is CBS News Chief Political and Legal Correspondent. She is from "Crossroads," Alabama.

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