Romney's Task Today: Distance Himself from RomneyCare

The former health care reformer says he wants to repeal ObamaCare

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Mitt Romney says that if he's elected president, his first act will be to repeal President Obama's health care overhaul, according to his op-ed in USA Today. The column comes ahead of Romney's speech Thursday explaining why in 2006, as Massachusetts governor, he signed into law a health care overhaul eerily similar to Obama's national plan, which is widely despised by Republicans. The speech is critical to his presidential campaign, Politico's Kasie Hunt writes, as he has to convince voters he's not a big government socialist without leaving himself up to the charge of being a flip-flopper.

RomneyCare features a mandate that forces citizens to buy health insurance. This feature of ObamaCare is hated by conservatives, and the central question in many of state suits to block the bill. Romney says he opposes a federal individual mandate. But MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, who was one of the chief architects of RomneyCare and later consulted on ObamaCare, remembers Romney strongly backing a mandate. At a planning meeting in 2005, Gruber tells Salon's Justin Elliott, "It was clear to me.... He argued strongly for it and was very excited about it. ... His role was essential. It was ultimately his call about whether to include the mandate." Gruber finds Romney's new position "incredibly disappointing."

Given this history, how can Romney sell himself to GOP primary voters? For starters, his speech at University of Michigan's Cardiovascular Center will be aided by PowerPoint slides. Hunt argues that Romney has to do four things with this speech: explain how RomneyCare is different from ObamaCare, offer something of an apology, explain the mandate, and show he's offering something new.

But The New Republic's Jonathan Chait writes that none of that will matter, because Romney's essential position is ridiculous. Romney isn't going to apologize, his staffers say. That means his stance, as Chait summarizes, is: "At the state level, the individual mandate is a humane, cost-effective tool for rationalizing the health care market. At the federal level, it is the greatest threat to freedom in American history." The Democratic National Committee created its own PowerPoint, showing Romney supporting an individual mandate in 1994, 2006, 2008, and 2009.

It's not just liberals who are skeptical of Romney's position. A Wall Street Journal editorial, rips into Romney for his refusal to own up to what RomneyCare really is. Romney's "failure to explain his own role or admit any errors suggests serious flaws both in his candidacy and as a potential President," the Journal writes. When Romney introduced the individual mandate, he used the same argument as the Obama administration: free riders were making everyone else pay more, the editorial says. "Because the states have police powers under the Constitution, Mr. Romney's plan posed no legal problems. His blunder was his philosophy of government." On top of that, the Journal says, Romney argues that the problems resulting from RomneyCare are "a failure of execution, not of design. But by this cause-and-effect standard, Mr. Romney could push someone out of an airplane and blame the ground for killing him."

Romney might not even mention the mandate, The Washington Post's Greg Sargent writes, which means, "The speech designed to deal with Romney's most glaring political liability may not even mention his most glaring political liability."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.