A protester against Obamacare outside the Supreme Court on Thursday (David Goldman/AP)
The White House argued on Friday that the individual mandate at the heart of Obamacare is a penalty, not a tax, contradicting the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling a day earlier upholding the historic health care law. But if it is a tax, blame Mitt Romney, spokesman Jay Carney suggested.
"It's a penalty because you have a choice. You don't have a choice to pay your taxes, right?" Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One. President Barack Obama was on his way to Colorado to view the response to the worst wildfires in the state's history.
In any case, Carney said, the penalty "is modeled exactly on the penalty that exists in the health care reform that was promoted and signed into law by Gov. Romney in Massachusetts."
Republicans pounced Thursday on Chief Justice John Roberts' ruling that the Affordable Care Act passed constitutional muster as a legitimate exercise of Congress' power to levy taxes.
Roberts wrote that the law "makes going without insurance just another thing the government taxes, like buying gasoline or earning an income." His words offered Republicans disappointed by the ruling something of a political silver lining: They have been hitting the law as a vast tax hike and clearly plan to do so through to the election.
"You can call it what you want," Carney said, underlining Congressional Budget Office estimates that it will affect only 1 percent of Americans. "It is not a broad-based tax.""One percent of the population. One percent. You can call it what you want, but it is affecting 1 percent of the population. Because most people either have health insurance or people do the responsible thing and if they can afford health insurance they will purchase it," the spokesman said.
"For those who can afford health insurance but choose to remain uninsured, forcing the rest of us to pay for their care, a penalty is administered," Carney said.