Stephanopoulos said he wanted to check for himself and came back with the next punch. “But your critics say it is a tax increase.” To which the president replied: “My critics say everything is a tax increase. Look, we can have a legitimate debate about whether or not we’re going to have an individual mandate or not….”

Stephanopoulos tried once again: “But you reject that it’s a tax increase?”

“I absolutely reject that notion,” said the president.

The takeaway? In the president’s mind, a tax penalty is not a tax increase—although the public may not see it that way. As the weeks wear on, it will be up to the American people to decide who won the semantic game played on ABC this Sunday.

But what was that about the president once being against the individual mandate—that requirement that almost every American has to buy health insurance? The president, it seems, still doesn’t want to say much about that. So we suggest that Stephanopoulos tackle that topic the next time the president holds a Sunday-morning media blitz.

Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.