It's not a lie if you believe it (image: mariopiperni / flickr)

When the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act one political silver lining for Republicans is that the Court effectively declared the individual mandate a tax. The problem for Republicans, though, is that Mitt Romney championed a near identical mandate in Massachusetts. As a result, Republican efforts exploit this tax issue have been extremely awkward.

And in an interview with Jan Crawford on CBS, Romney’s attempt to clear up confusion about Republicans’ new attack on the mandate-as-a-tax didn’t improve the situation. From the CBS News:

Romney: Well, the Supreme Court has the final word. And their final word is that Obamacare is a tax. So it’s a tax. It’s — they decided it was constitutional. So it is a tax and it’s constitutional. That’s — that’s the final word. That’s what it is. Now, I agreed with the dissent. I would have taken a different course. But the dissent wasn’t the majority. The majority has ruled. And their rule is final.

Crawford: But does that mean that the — the mandate in the state of Massachusetts under your health care law also is a tax –

Romney: Actually –

Crawford: — 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 — 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.

emphasis mine

Lets go through this weird explanation piece by piece because it has a lot of layers.

When Romney says he agrees with the dissent, which said mandate is not a tax, what Romney means is that he personally doesn’t believe the individual mandate is a tax.

Even though Romney doesn’t personally believe the mandate is a tax, he will now attack Obama for raising taxes because the Court officially declared it a tax. Since Romney feels the Court’s decision is final, Romney thinks it is okay to attack Obama for creating a new tax, dispite the fact Romney personally doesn’t believe Obama created a tax.

Now things get really confusing. Although the law never called the individual mandate a tax, Chief Justice Roberts effectively concluded that if something acts just like a tax, it is tax regardless the name it was given. Yet Romney is claiming his nearly identical mandate is somehow still magically not a tax, even though it acts just like a tax, because he also never called his mandate a tax.

Romney claims his identical mandate is not a tax because it could be found constitutional for other reasons, but that doesn’t change the fundamental legal principle that something which acts just like a tax is inherently a tax, regardless of the name.

Romney’s defense for why his mandate is not a tax is the same defense the Democrats use to claim their mandate is not a tax, but Romney insists only the Democrats’ defense is a lie because of the Supreme Court ruling.

Let’s not forget, though, that on a personal level Romney still believes that the Democrats’ defense is valid because he thinks the Court decided the case wrong. Romney agrees with Democrats that the mandate is not a tax since they did not call it one.

You got all that? And to think some Republicans were worried that Romney’s tenure as governor of Massachusetts would make it hard for him to go after Obama on health care.