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Romney and Health Care: A Debate Over Semantics

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Most Americans are already focused on the beach and barbecue, but the awkward struggle of how Republicans and the presumptive GOP nominee are framing the health care debate was still at a fever pitch.

On Tuesday, Rush Limbaugh said there is no upside to the Supreme Court ruling for the GOP and “unless we get past this semantic debate we’re going to lose in November.”

Limbaugh is just the latest to weigh in on an awkward dance between Mitt Romney and the rest of his party.

Just about every Republican in the country — John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Newt Gingrich — wants to say the health reform law raised taxes on the middle class by forcing Americans to buy insurance or pay a fine.

Just about every Republican, that is, but Mitt Romney. He imposed the same kind of fine in Massachusetts and his aides are at odds with the party, saying it’s a penalty, not a tax. Exactly what the Democrats are sticking to.

It’s awkward and something Rick Santorum foreshadowed in the primary.

“Pick any other Republican in the country. He is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama,” Santorum told a crowd in Franksville, Wis., in March. The then-presidential candidate explained it’s because of the similarity between Romney’s health care plan and the president’s, deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court last week.

It may seem like ancient history but he can now say, “I told you so.”

But, the real question may be whether the struggle over semantics really even matters, especially in July, when Americans are more focused on time with their families than hand-to-hand combat on the presidential battlefield.

ABC News Political Director Amy Walter says no.

“Romney’s tortured explanation for his change of heart on individual mandate will make for some uncomfortable moments at the fall debates,” Walter says. “But, for the campaign as a whole, there’s no reason why Romney can’t benefit from GOP attacks on ‘Obamacare tax.’ The airwaves are going to be awash in attack ads from outside groups on the issue and House and Senate Republicans are sure to bludgeon Democrats on this issue as well. All of that noise will make its way to the ears of the public. They aren’t going to be trying to discern where or whom it came from.”

Either way, Americans are divided on the issue. A new ABC News-Washington Post poll found that 43 percent of Americans see the Affordable Care Act favorably, while 42 percent see it unfavorably.

This is the topic at the heart of the current battle, but on Friday as Americans soak up their last days of vacation a new — and possibly equally as crucial — news cycle will be born: new unemployment numbers. Depending on what those numbers are, it could push health care off the table … at least until people get off the beach and start paying attention.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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