Mitt Romney must have been squirming as he saw President Barack Obama defending the bipartisan nature of the new health care bill by citing its similarities with the 2006 Massachusetts reform. “I think that’s unfortunate because when you actually look at the bill itself, it incorporates all sorts of Republican ideas,” Obama said this morning on the Today Show:
OBAMA: I mean a lot of commentators have said this is sort of similar to the bill that Mitt Romney, the Republican governor and now presidential candidate, passed in Massachusetts. A lot of the ideas in terms of the exchange, just being able to pool and improve the purchasing power of individuals in the insurance market.”
It was as if Obama had taken a page from Romney’s own ever-evolving health care stump speech. Just yesterday, during an event in Iowa, Romney — who has previously argued that the Massachusetts and the federal health reform are “as different as night and day” — proudly acknowledged that his bill included a set of new insurance regulations that “President Obama always likes to talk about in his health care plan.” “Overall, ours is a model that works,” he said, before noting, “We solved our problem at the state level. Like it or not, it was a state solution. Why is it that President Obama is stepping in and saying ‘one size fits all?”
Romney’s rhetorical question aside — Obama proposed federal legislation because that’s what presidents do — his newest position highlights the awkwardness of his predicament. On one hand, Romney needs to bolster his can do image by arguing that the individual health insurance mandate, affordability credits, standard benefit package requirements, government-run exchanges and Medicaid expansion (elements of his health care reform) have improved the system. But to retain the conservative base, he is also claiming that these successful policies should not be exported to other states. Rather than building on success, lawmakers should implement a completely untested set of policies that would deregulate insurance markets and help states adopt reforms that are completely different from Massachusetts’ large risk pool approach.
This argument simply doesn’t make any sense and I suspect that primary challengers will ultimately force Romney to walk away from his own health care law. He could argue that the legislature changed his original proposal — Romney vetoed 8 sections of the Massachusetts bill — but if he does, he’ll have a hard time explaining why he called the final package “exactly what we’d hoped for’’ at the signing ceremony.