Why should a state be able to impose a mandate that people buy health insurance, but not the federal government? Variations of that question have plagued Mitt Romney as he's tried to differentiate his Massachusetts Health Care plan from President Obama's health care reforms. But when the question was recently posed by ABC's George Stephanopoulos, the Republican responded succinctly: "States have rights that the federal government doesn't have," he said, before asserting a state's right to try different things to see what "works" and issuing a non-apology for his plan. On Good Morning America Tuesday morning, he "refused to apologize" for Massachusetts's plan.
Pundits have now seized on Romney's answer as a potential strong strategy for a looming 2012 presidential bid. Why? Because Romney now appears to be in line with the debate that is likely to unfold as the constitutionality of federal health care reform gets decided in the courts.
- He Finally Has a 'Plausible' Campaign Answer, says Politico's Ben Smith, who notes that Romney "struggled" to distinguish his plan during last year's debate. "Romney's argument is now much stronger. Because the main objection to ObamaCare, as its critics call it, is no longer a matter of policy nuance," Smith writes. "Now critics primarily make the case that it's an unconstitutional expansion of specifically federal power. And on that turf, the similar structure of the plans doesn't matter. Romney enacted his at a state level, and states have--conservatives argue--more power to regulate the insurance industry, as they do with car insurance."
- Could Be a Way For Romney to Offer Actual Solutions blogs Ezra Klein at The Washington Post. "You could imagine some conservative politician who actually wanted to solve the coverage problem embracing something like this. Romney hasn't been known for his courage as a campaigner, but if he wanted to go on offense, he could develop a proposal along these lines and use it to both frame his effort in Massachusetts as a good thing--after all, he did bring near-universal coverage to his state--and create a policy platform that allows him to offer actual solutions to the nation's problems (an important part of any general election campaign) while maintaining a harsh critique of Washington."
- Still Needs a Better Defense Of RomneyCare At The Washington Post's Right Turn, Jennifer Rubin thinks Romney's stance still leaves a little to be desired. "Romney has many assets as a candidate, but he needs to come up with a better response to critics who will drill down on his greatest liability," writes Rubin. "I have thought what that might be. I've asked those supportive of his candidacy: What's the defense for RomneyCare? I've yet to hear a satisfying answer. But it is early. Perhaps Romney and his team will come up with something. But first they need to drop their legalistic argument."
- Even This Concession May Not Be Enough for GOP "I'm not quite sure that Romney is in the clear," blogs Jamelle Bouie at The American Prospect. "Whether or not this argument flies depends on whether conservatives view universal coverage as an acceptable goal. If they're OK with state-implemented universal coverage, then Romney can breathe a little easier. But if they're opposed to universal coverage as a matter of political principle, then there's little Romney can do to mitigate criticism from his right."
- Mitt Forgot Everything He Said In 2008 "Mitt's answer now boils down to this: my individual health care mandate was okay because I was a governor. Barack Obama's wasn't okay because he was president," concludes Jed Lewison at Daily Kos. "In other words, it's a state's rights issue. But that's not what he said back in 2008 when he defended the individual mandate as an essential component of health care reform because it forced people to take responsibility for the cost of their own health care."