Mitt Romney keeps trying to distance himself from President Obama’s national health-care plan, but his potential Republican opponents for the party’s 2012 presidential nomination won’t let him forget it. Neither, it seems, will the press or the bloggers.
Romney, who lost the 2008 Republican nomination to John McCain, was in Iowa this week laying the groundwork for another run at the White House. Yet one of his crowning achievements as governor of Massachusetts — passage of statewide health-care reform — is sure to come back to bite him.
Republican rivals such as Tim Pawlenty, governor of Minnesota, say the law Romney signed in 2006 is the kissing cousin of Obam’s plan — an accusation gleeful Democrats are happy to support. Pawlenty repeated the charge this week while visiting New Hampshire, as did Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator of Pennsylvania who is exploring a presidential run.
Romney has gone to great lengths to explain the differences between his Massachusetts plan and the new federal law. He did so again when questioned Monday after a speech in Ames, Iowa. Every time he does, however, Romney draws further attention to the issue and a spate of new stories usually follows.
The Boston Globe, for instance, took keen interest in Romney’s Iowa visit. The story notes his active defense of the Massachusetts plan. It also quotes MIT economist Jonathan Gruber as saying Romney is the “intellectual father of national health reform.”
How would Gruber know? He advised both Romney and the Obama White House on their health-care initiatives. “Basically, it’s the same thing,” Gruber said.
You can be sure Romney’s opponents will take Gruber at his word. They will point first and foremost to a Massachusetts law that requires every adult who makes a certain level of income to buy health insurance or pay a fine. A similar mandate is in the new federal law.
Although some Republicans as far back as Richard Nixon supported a mandate, most modern conservatives and libertarians detest the provision and want to eliminate it. They argue it’s unconstitutional for the government to require people to buy a product as part of their citizenship – something that’s never been done before in American history.
Republicans are also pleased as punch to point out that the Massachusetts plan has repeatedly run over budget.
But who knows? By 2011, Obama’s plan might be wildly popular. Stranger things have happened. In such a scenario, Romney might even accept “fatherhood” status and use to thwack Republican rivals.
Don’t bet on it.
Jeffry Bartash, MarketWatch