When the Supreme Court upheld President Barack Obama's healthcare law as constitutional last week, it gave a little something to his Republican foes: The court declared that the fee charged to most Americans who refuse to buy health insurance amounts to a tax - and not a penalty, as Obama says.
In the heat of a presidential campaign, that's a key distinction. Since Thursday's ruling, many Republicans have accused Obama of imposing a massive "tax" through his healthcare law, saying it disproves the president's claim that he has not raised taxes on the middle class.
But on Monday, Obama's rival for the White House, Republican Mitt Romney, took some of the air out of his party's assault on the president over healthcare. Campaign spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom acknowledged that Romney does not see the healthcare penalty as a tax, and instead considers it a penalty.
Fehrnstrom's comments to MSNBC, which were accompanied by a new push by the Romney campaign to focus on jobs, indicated that Romney's team does not want to linger on the healthcare ruling - a victory for Obama in court - and instead is keen to highlight Obama's weakness, the economy.
Romney adviser Fehrnstrom's comment meant that the Republican candidate essentially agrees with the White House that the official sanction for not buying health insurance is a penalty, not a tax.
"The governor has consistently described the mandate as a penalty," Fehrnstrom said.
Comments don’t help Republicans
"That's taking a weapon away from Republicans on the issue," said a Republican strategist in Washington, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I don't think it's very helpful. The tax issue is the one issue that rallied Republicans."
The Romney campaign began trying to turn away from healthcare and return its focus to Americans' top concern in the campaign, the flagging U.S. economy and the 8.2 percent jobless rate.
With Obama preparing a campaign bus tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania this week, Romney's team issued a memo from two Republican senators from those states, Rob Portman and Pat Toomey, pointing out campaign promises Obama made four years ago that have been unfulfilled.
- Salva Kiir sacks top South Sudan officials
- Lawyer wants Chinedu to appear in court
- Maji marefu’s futile effort to find stolen property
- Can chickens really be cleverer than a toddler? Studies suggest animals can master numeracy and basic engineering
- Freedom of media under threat in Eastern Africa
- Rapid desertification in Kenya threatening livelihood