POLAND, Ohio (Reuters) - President Barack Obama accused Republican rival Mitt Romney of kowtowing to conservatives when he changed his position on what to call the healthcare reform provision that requires people to buy insurance.
Obama said Romney had defended the "individual mandate" as a penalty when he backed it as part of healthcare reform in Massachusetts as governor, but changed his tune on the national healthcare law after criticism from fellow Republicans.
"The guy I'm running against tried this in Massachusetts and it's working just fine, even though now he denies it," Obama told a campaign event during a two-day bus tour of Ohio and Pennsylvania, battleground states that will be vital to the outcome of the November 6 election.
The individual mandate, which demands everyone who can afford to buy health insurance does so or face a fine, was upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court last week after a majority of the court judged this fee was allowed under Congress's power to tax.
The decision handed Obama a major political victory by preserving the cornerstone of his signature healthcare reform but Republicans have attacked the provision as a tax hike.
"The fact that a whole bunch of Republicans in Washington suddenly said this is a tax - for six years, he said it wasn't, and now he suddenly reversed himself," Obama told WLWT television in Cincinnati in an interview broadcast Friday.
"And so, the question becomes 'Are you doing that because of politics? Are you abandoning a principle that you fought for six years simply because you're getting pressure for two days?'" Obama said. The interview, conducted on Thursday, was among six Obama gave to local television stations while on the bus trip.
On Monday, Romney senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said Romney believed the Obama healthcare law carried a "penalty."
Fehrnstrom said the fee charged to those without coverage under Romney's Massachusetts healthcare plan was considered a penalty, not a tax, remarks that put his boss at odds with the views of other Republicans.
On Wednesday, Romney changed course in a CBS interview.
"The Supreme Court has the final word, and their final word is that Obamacare is a tax," he said. "So it's a tax. They decided it was constitutional. So it is a tax, and it's constitutional."
A Romney spokeswoman did not directly address Obama's characterization of Romney as a flip-flopper.
"Mitt Romney believes Obamacare is a job-killing law that raises a whole series of taxes, cuts Medicare, and gets between patients and their doctors. In order to repeal Obamacare, we must replace President Obama," said Amanda Henneberg.
(Reporting By Jeff Mason, writing by Alister Bull; Editing by Doina Chiacu)