Has Romney Lost The RomneyCare = ObamaCare Argument?

Last night, Patrick Ruffini, a conservative digital superstar with a top-notch mind to boot, tweeted to his 10,000+ followers: "Those given to hyperbole on both sides of this should remember one fact: This is Romneycare, writ large. Nothing more or less."  Ruffini helped to set up Gov. Tim Pawlenty's political action committee website, and while I know Ruffini's opinions are his own, I also happen to know that the Pawlenty brain trust shares the view. And so, I must concede, do most of the conservative cognoscenti.

There are important differences between what Mitt Romney did in Massachusetts and what Democrats passed last night, but the basic structure of the program designed to expand coverage, the minimum level of benefits, the individual mandates -- the nubs of the Obama-Democratic bill -- are based on the Massachusetts model (which itself was based on conservative models in the 1990s).

Romney and his supporters have to argue about the details: Romney was forced to accept changes to his bill in order to satisfy the Democratic legislature, that the bill didn't raise taxes (except fees on hospitals) and that, in any event, Massachusetts was a special case because of its relatively low percentage of uninsured folks; states should be left to experiment on their own, the bill didn't cut costs, etc. These aren't very compelling arguments politically, though I am sensitive to the substantive point. Sensitive, but not entirely convinced.

Whether RomneyCare worked is an open question: costs have risen (though the deep recession can be blamed here), forcing the state to beg the federal government for money, but it has achieved its coverage goal, and most people who are part of the insurance exchange are happy with it. One reason why the plan is fiscally tenuous now is because Romney and state Democrats left the heavy lifting -- the bending of the cost curve -- to their successors. Retrospective prediction: had the country not plunged into a recession, RomneyCare would be seen as a stunning and innovative success.

One thing Romney can say, and that Democrats can't, is that Romney's bill was bipartisan. He worked with his Democrats, with Sen. Ted Kennedy. This won't play well with a primary audience, however, especially if "Obamacare" remains as unpopular with Republicans as it is right now.

Presented by

Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Politics

Just In