When Rick Perry accused Mitt Romney of advocating for a federal mandate to purchase health care coverage in the hardcover edition of his memoir No Apology during Saturday night’s ABC News debate in Iowa, Romney tried to wager $10,000 that Perry couldn’t prove his point. The moment served to highlight Romney’s vast wealth and played poorly in a state where the average median income “is around $50,000.” But with just three weeks to go to the Iowa caucuses, the wager could proven even more damaging, for it greatly undermined Romney’s claims to consistency on health care and highlighted his greatest political vulnerability: a willingness to change positions and flip flop with the political winds.
To be clear, the hardcover version of Romney’s book No Apology “advocated the Massachusetts model as a strong option for other states” without specifically suggesting that the federal government should adopt the requirement. A later paperback edition even included additional passages that emphasized the changes he would have made to the Massachusetts law and how it’s different from “Obamacare.” What’s important here isn’t Romney book — be it the hardcover or the paperback editions — but rather the way he has evolved his rhetoric about reform from 2006, when he signed the bill into law, to today.
At the signing ceremony in April of 2006, Romney adopted a bipartisan spirit, saying, “This isn’t 100 percent of what anyone in this room wanted. But the differences between us are small.” In news interviews promoting the accomplishment, Romney praised Democrats and Republicans for working together on the measure and even claimed that the law solved “what the Democrats have talked about…which is getting everybody insured…in a Republican way.” He explained that this centered around the mandate by “applying a personal responsibility principle, reforming the market, and allowing people to buy private health care insurance, private insurance that they can take with them from job to job that’s entirely portable.”
During that same round of national media appearances — orchestrated by the governor to sell his accomplishment to the nation ahead of his presidential bid — Romney repeatedly hinted or directly stated that this “ultimate conservative solution” or “the Republican way” of personal responsibility could serve as a model for the nation. It’s a position he first adopted in his challenge to Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1994. At that time, Romney said he would support a mandate on a national level if universal coverage could not be achieved through other means (such as providing tax incentives to purchase care) and explained that he would have voted for the Republican alternative to the Clinton plan offered by then Sen. John Chafee (R-RI), which included a national individual mandate.
By the time he became governor, Romney focused his attention on how Massachusetts and neighboring states could expand coverage, but still advocated for a federal mandate. In December 2007, Romney said that if other states adopted the individual mandate it would be “a terrific idea…we’ll end up with a nation that’s taken a mandate approach” and endorsed the mandate-centric Wyden-Bennett health care proposal. Other select quotes:
– “Let me just note, there are a lot of people who say, ‘you know Governor, I don’t like this idea that people are going to be required to buy insurance. This is America. They should be free.’ Well, they are going to get free health care if they don’t buy insurance. I don’t think it is appropriate to say individuals have a choice of saying I don’t want to buy insurance even though I can afford it and I want to make somebody else pay for it. That’s not American. And that is not the right way, in my view, for us to go.” [Chamber of Commerce, 4/25/2006]
– “I’m proud of what we’ve done. If Massachusetts succeeds in implementing it, then that will be a model for the nation.” [Newsweek, 12/2/2007]
– “I think you’re going to find when it’s all said and done, after all these states that are the laboratories of democracy, get their chance to try their own plans, but those who follow the path that we pursued will find it’s the best path, and we’ll end up with a nation that’s taken a mandate approach.” [NBC, 12/16/2007]
You won’t hear him make a similar case today. The closest Romney comes to discussing his past support for a federal requirement is to say that he borrowed the idea from the Heritage Foundation and Newt Gingrich and applied it to his state. During Saturday’s debate, Romney simply ignored his past support for a federal requirement, saying, “I have not said in that book, first edition or the latest edition, anything about our plan being a national model imposed on the nation. The right course for America — and I’ve said this during the debates last time around; I’ll say it now and time again — is to let individual states — this is a remarkable nation.”