Being Mitt Romney

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Michael and I have both written before about Mitt Romney’s health care quandary. He was the architect of the Massachusetts reform plan that closely resembles the new national plan that just became law. Yet, he’s also a presumed candidate for president in 2012 and would be vying for the nomination of a party that has staked its reputation on opposing President’s Obama health reform plan.

Newsweek’s Andrew Romano is the latest reporter to try figure out exactly what Romney’s position is on national health reform. His Q&A with the former governor is detailed and substantive, but what it reveals is more ambiguity. Here’s one particularly cringe-worthy exchange:

Romano: Back in February 2007, you said you hoped the Massachusetts plan would “become a model for the nation.” Would you agree that it has?

Romney: I don’t … You’re going to have to get that quote. That’s not exactly accurate, I don’t believe.

Romano: I can tell you exactly what it says: “I’m proud of what we’ve done. If Massachusetts succeeds in implementing it, then that will be a model for the nation.”

Romney: It is a model for the states to be able to learn from. During the campaign, I was asked if I was proposing that what I did in Massachusetts I would do for the nation. And the answer was absolutely not. Our plan is a state plan. It is a model for other states—if you will, the nation—it is a model for them to look at what we’ve accomplished and to better it or to create their own plans.

The part of the interview I found most probing, however, was this:

Romney: … There are some similar benefits. The fact, for instance, that insurance is affordable—that’s a similar benefit in my plan and the Obama plan. But there’s simply an enormous difference when you have one plan that imposes massive tax hikes and another that does not. [There’s] a huge difference with a plan that dramatically cuts Medicare Advantage and one that does not impose a new burden on senior citizens.

Romano: Those are real differences, but aren’t they measures designed to control costs and pay for the plan? The president’s plan has cost controls that the Massachusetts plan didn’t need—tax increases on people earning over $200,000 a year, reductions in wasteful Medicare spending. In Massachusetts, you could just repurpose hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds to pay for it. But that doesn’t work on the national level. So it seems a little disingenuous to call the Democrats fiscally irresponsible, then criticize the parts of the plan that are designed to make it fiscally responsible.

Romano: But you see, we go back to the initial premise. I reject the idea of a federal mandate imposed on states and individuals. If you open the door to the federal government, then it leads to all sorts of unattractive elements, such as raising taxes and cutting Medicare. If instead one said at the federal level, “We’re going to give resource flexibility to states to use money they’re already receiving as a way to help the poor buy insurance,” that says, “All right, we’re using funds that have already been allocated, we’re letting states create their own plans, and we’ll see how that works. And we’ll learn from the experience.” That’s the idea of states as the laboratories of democracy. What we’ve gotten into by opening the door to a federally imposed plan is the creation of the Mr. Hyde monster.

Here, Romney tried to pivot back to his federalism argument that he’s hoping will be the way out of the political pickle he’s in right now. What may save Romney, though, is support for his position – however undefinable it might be – from within the Republican Party. Marco Rubio, the Tea Party darling who looks to be on the cusp of clinching the GOP nomination for Senate in Florida, offered this helpful tidbit today (reported by Robert Costa of the National Review and flagged by Ben Smith at Politico):

Rubio has spent much of his campaign focused on health care. Is he a fan of Romney’s Massachusetts health-care plan? “It’s a work in progress,” Rubio says, speaking of the Bay State program. “There are major distinctions between that and what Obama is trying to do in Washington. For one, it didn’t raise any taxes. Number two, it is not adding to our deficit. That is my biggest objection to Obamacare, although there are many others. My number-one objection to Obamacare is that we can’t afford it, even if it was the greatest idea in the world.”

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