Part of the Obama administration's legal defense of ObamaCare's individual mandate to purchase health insurance rests on the argument that the penalty for not paying is justifiable under the conressional power to tax. ObamaCare doesn't actually require anyone to purchase anything, the argument goes; the law just makes people pay a tax if they don't. 

Courts have so far not been kind to this argument (in part because taxes must be intended to raise revenue rather than control behavior), and now a senior member of President Obama's staff seems to deny it as well. Here's an exchange between GOP Rep. Scott Garrett and newly appointed White House budget chief Jeffrey Zients from a congressional budget hearing earlier:

If Zients seems confused here, it's understandable: One the one hand, he's stuck with the administration's repeated promise that those with annual incomes of less than $250,000 won't face tax hikes. On the other hand, the administration's legal team is set to argue in front of the Supreme Court that a provision in President Obama's most prominent legislative achievement is justifable as a tax. Of course, Zients isn't exactly alone in his confusion: President Obama has in the past denied that the mandate is a tax too. At this point, I imagine the administration's official position on the question is—look! A blimp!

(Thanks to Jim Antle for the pointer.)

Update: More on this from Philip Klein at The Examiner, who caught it first.