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Republicans, Democrats Spar Over Health Care Fee

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(CNN) — While Democrats say the issue has been settled, Republicans argue the debate over health care reform is not over yet.

One day after the Supreme Court announced its decision to uphold the controversial health care law passed in 2010, the GOP is pushing a message Friday that the law imposes a substantial tax hike on the American public.

“What happened yesterday calls for greater urgency, I believe, in the election,” Romney said at a New York City fund-raiser Friday morning.

A focal point of the high court’s deliberation was the law’s individual mandate, which will eventually require people to buy health insurance or pay a fee.

The court ruled that the fee was a tax rather than a penalty, and therefore decided the law was constitutional.

“It is reasonable to construe what Congress has done as increasing taxes on those who have a certain amount of income, but choose to go without health insurance,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “Such legislation is within Congress’s power to tax.”

Republicans, however, point to a 2009 interview in which President Barack Obama forcefully argued against the notion that the fee would amount to a tax.

“For us to say that you’ve got to take responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase,” he told ABC News.

Now that the high court says it is a tax, however, Republicans are taking it and running with it as a major sticking point against the health care law.

“Make no mistake about it: This is a whopping tax on the citizens of the United States,” Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia said on a conference call Friday organized by the Republican National Committee.

He added that the health care law “represents one of the largest tax increases on the middle class that we’ve ever seen.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana said his state would flat out refuse to enforce the health care law.

“We don’t think it makes any sense to implement ‘Obamacare’ in Lousiana,” said Jindal, who was also on the RNC call. “We’re going to do everything we can to fight it.”

Asked how he would resist federal requirements, Jindal said his state has not started applying for grants or begun building the infrastructure to set up the law’s insurance exchange program.

Also of note, Jindal accidentally slipped up on the call by beginning to refer to “Obamacare” as “Obamneycare,” a term coined by Mitt Romney’s former GOP opponent Tim Pawlenty last year to mock the similarities between Obama’s plan and the one signed into law by Romney when he served as Massachusetts governor. Jindal caught himself quickly and corrected.

Romney, himself, referred to the fee in his signature health care law as a tax. He told CNN in 2009 that if the state’s residents decided to forgo health insurance when they could afford it, they would face the loss of a tax exemption–or in other words, they would be assessed a tax.

“There are a number of ways to encourage people to get insurance and what we did, we said ‘you’re going to lose a tax exemption if you don’t have insurance,'” Romney told CNN in the interview.

The policy may cause some conflict on the campaign trail for Romney as critics will likely boost their criticism of the candidate as “hypocritical” in the health care debate, given that he staunchly opposes the federal law and vows to repeal it.

But for now, while Republicans steadfastly broadcast the court’s ruling on the tax provision, Democrats maintain that it’s still a penalty.

“Whether you call it a mandate or a tax, what it is is a penalty…that basically says if you can afford health care and you chose not to have it, that you can’t go to emergency rooms and hospitals, get free care and drive everybody else’s premiums up,” David Axelrod, Obama’s senior campaign strategist, said on MSNBC Friday.

Calling the Republicans’ tax argument a “bizarre attack,” Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick insisted the fee was a way to punish those who refuse to contribute to the insurance system.

“It’s bringing those folks into the insurance system and penalizing those who don’t come in,” he said on a conference call organized by the Obama campaign.

Piling on, Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland argued that only about one to two percent of Americans would likely end up paying the fee–a provision of the health care law that does not go into effect until 2014.

O’Malley also took sharp aim at the GOP’s argument, saying they refuse to move “forward” after the Supreme Court made its decision.

“They’re retreating to the last bastion of scoundrels, which is to try to cast this as some sort of tax increase,” O’Malley said.

CNN National Political Correspondent Jim Acosta contributed to this report.

By Ashley Killough – CNN

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