After many months of getting a pass, it seems that the other candidates are willing to finally start hitting Governor Mitt Romney on his major weakness: The Massachusetts Health Care Insurance Reform Law. The bill, known by most as Romneycare, is (as we all have been saying for many moons) the basis for the much maligned Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise affectionately known as Obamacare.
I’ve been in endless debates and discussions with Romney supporters and surrogates for some time now as they paint a beautiful picture of the ultimate State’s Rights battle. They claim that Romneycare vs Obamacare isn’t about socialized medicine vs the free market. They say it’s actually the core of the Federalist struggle and that Romney will channel Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and march onto the capital steps, fulfilling the dreams and desires of tea partiers nationwide by finally standing up and saying, “Enough is enough! Let the state’s make their decisions Obama! Your days of tyranny are at an end!” And they all rejoiced.
Yet, continually when Romney is approached on this subject in the debates with fellow Republicans, he seems incapable of defending any other point and seems befuddled at the idea that there might be more than one part about Obamacare that American’s had wholly objected to. For him, it’s all about the mandate.
But it’s important to keep in mind, Mitt Romney does not object to the concept of mandates. Far from it actually.
In case you haven’t already heard it a dozen times, let me try to explain the premise of Mitt Romney’s defense of the individual mandate that exists in Massachusetts. From his perspective, it’s a simple matter of mathematics combined with certainty of human behavior. In Massachusetts they had a serious problem, one which has presented itself in every state in the country: people without insurance were racking up enormous hospital bills and then skipping out on the debt. This put the state in a position where healthcare costs were continually rising in order to compensate for the loss that was generated by these “free riders.”
It’s a legitimate issue which has been something that everyone has tried to figure out how to tackle for generations. Ron Paul’s answer to the question of people who couldn’t afford insurance nor their hospital bill seemed to be something along the lines of “screw them.” By and large, this has been considered a bad answer so conservatives have continually looked for other solutions.
Over the years, everyone from Newt Gingrich to the Heritage Foundation (and some claim that even Santorum) has at one time or another come to the conclusion that the only answer is to force everyone to pay up ahead of time. Either by requiring them to have insurance, forcing them onto government run insurance like medicare, or having them pay some type of annual fee if they refused to do either of those two things. Heritage & Gingrich have both changed their position on this. Romney has not.
As recently as 2008, the mandate question was not a hot button issue. On the campaign trail, Romney was still touting his healthcare bill as a solution that the entire nation could use to solve this ever growing problem. Whether his view of “nationwide solution” meant state by state or federally done is still debated to this day.
Thanks to Obamacare and the backlash from conservatives, libertarians, and independents nationwide, individual mandates moved to the front of everyone’s minds. This would of course be a problem for a guy who wants to run for president and also “loves mandates.” But then a beautiful thing happened: it started to be challenged in courts across the country as a 10th amendment issue. Eureka! This isn’t about whether or not it’s good policy! It’s about the process which brought it about and the fact that it trumped the desires of the states! At last! An intellectual justification for how Romney could enact Romneycare, call for its nationwide implementation, and still run on a ticket that promises to repeal legislation that does this very thing. It’s the Federalism stupid!
But there’s a problem that all of the fanatical screaming about “electability” simply won’t or can’t address. This path may work great to convince committed conservatives that Romney is on their side, but it will not work so well in the general elections against Barack Obama and his $1 billion reelection campaign machine.
Currently when Romneycare is assaulted (mostly by primary opponents and their surrogates on the right), conservatives that support the Governor come out in droves to explain away all of the issues in ways that they think will mostly appeal to rationality and reason. Case in point is Ms. Ann Coulter who currently believes that a vote for anyone but Mitt is a vote for Barack Obama.
The other day, David Limbaugh tweeted a statement out of frustration with Romney supporters (he’s in the Santorum camp):
Ms. Coulter, a leader in defending Romney on national television and elsewhere, replied to this concern with what I’m assuming she thought would be a satisfactory answer:
This isn’t the only example of the committed conservative’s defense of Romneycare. For example, Ms. Coulter also retweeted Jim Pethokoukis who had tweeted one of the points of a study recently released on the effects of Romneycare:
And she’s not alone. Today on Fox & Friends, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi defended the Governor as well:
She twists and turns around the issue that the Fox host’s are trying to squeeze out of her and ultimately fail to do. The issue is: beyond the 10th amendment issue, how does Mitt Romney defend his attacks on the basis of Obamacare? Obamacare is in philosophy, execution, and in many ways application, the same as Romneycare.
With the tweets above as the example of what substantive defenses the Romney campaign will use to battle in the generals,, Ms. Coulter gives us a preview of the rationale. And it’s all right out of the Obama playbook and talking points. Their plan actually seems to be to take the fight to the capital by saying:
Public health insurance didn’t crowd out employer sponsored insurance in Massachusetts
That any mandate, be it for public schools or for car insurance, is evidence that a mandate is perfectly acceptable even when it’s a mandate related to your right to exist.
That costs are being contained and kept down as a result of the bill and that the uninsured are now insured and the free rides are over.
That the mandate is only a technicality because anyone can choose not to be a part of it by simply paying a fee every year.
That the people of Massachusetts wanted healthcare reform and that a duly elected legislature passed the bill and thus it’s perfectly acceptable and reasonable.
If these defenses sound familiar it’s because they are virtually identical to the defenses we heard for a year and a half leading up to the passage of Obamacare.
And this is only the low hanging fruit. Obama could easily run ads defending the tenants of Obamacare at this point and use the likes of Ann Coulter and Pam Bondi (who is actually suing the Fed over Obamacare) to make the case for them that it’s a great bill.
I would love for Mr. Coulter or Ms. Bondi to explain exactly how it is that Mitt Romney is going to get in front of millions of Americans, the majority of which couldn’t tell you the name of the Speaker of the House, and convince them that this slick, polished banker who for many will represent the very institutions that spent the last few years bankrupting the country, is totally not a hypocrite because after all, the 10th amendment and stuff. Yes he agrees with mandates. Yes he agrees with more bureaucracy around healthcare. Yes he agrees with top down government solutions. But federalism!!!
For many Americans, they will hear Democrats for 10 months defending the basics of socialized medicine and they’ll also hear Republicans for 10 months defending the basics of socialized medicine. We’ll finally be in unison as each side tries to convince the middle that their plan was best with the only variation being one side didn’t like the process taken under by the other. That ultimately, socialized medicine and mandates are the only viable solution and that all sides they have a chance to vote on agree.
Whether or not the entire caricature is accurate is entirely irrelevant. The Obama campaign can and will successfully paint him as a flip flopper who is only changing his mind on the tenants of Obamacare because his banking overlords told him to.
If he’s got some other fantastic policy positions that will make up for this wide gap in electability I’m happy to hear them. But to borrow from Mr. Gingrich, frankly, I think he’s fundamentally the wrong candidate.
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