Voters need to hear it from him — and he has to be straight with them.
Even though Mitt Romney has had a string of primary wins, support for his presidential bid still is tepid among Republican voters nervous about Romneycare. He could calm them if he were to more fully explain the difference between his vision for reform and the law that ultimately was enacted in Massachusetts.
Gov. Romney gets big applause when he pledges to repeal Obamacare, but he faces silence when he tries to defend Romneycare. He insists, for example, that his individual mandate only impacted the 8 percent of residents who were uninsured (the mandate covers everyone), that he didn’t cut Medicare (states have no authority over Medicare), and that he would issue a waiver to the states to implement Obamacare their way (a president can’t undo an Act of Congress with a waiver).
The voters are not reassured. Gov. Romney can get off the defensive and change the subject by explaining that the Massachusetts law which was passed by the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature diverged significantly from his vision for reform, and then describe what his reform plan would be as president.
During the presidential debate in Jacksonville, Florida, in late January, Romney took a small step in this direction when he acknowledged that his successor, Gov. Deval Patrick, has taken a much more liberal track in implementing Romneycare. “If I were governor,” Romney said, “it would work a heck of a lot better.” Indeed, when it passed the law, the legislature was counting on a Democrat governor to succeed Romney to put the real regulatory thumb screws in place.
The Massachusetts law is different in important ways from the plan that Romney pushed as governor. Few voters know, for example, that Romney strongly opposed the employer mandate and wanted an escape from the individual mandate — allowing people to instead be able to post a bond if they were uninsured and had big medical bills. When Romney signed the law, he believed it contained the escape hatch, but legislators removed it before final passage.
Romney vetoed eight provisions of the Massachusetts bill, and every one of his vetoes was overridden by the legislature. Should Romney have known this was likely? Yes. Should he have known exactly what he was signing? Absolutely. But voters may be more forgiving if he tells them he wanted to give citizens and employers a way out.
Why did he push Romneycare? The state was at risk of losing $385 million in federal Medicaid money, and the Bush administration insisted Massachusetts make changes to get more residents covered and keep the money flowing.
Romney also wanted to find a way to make it easier for small businesses and individuals to get insurance that would be portable from job to job. To get around federal tax law restrictions and to make health insurance portable, he adopted the Heritage Foundation’s proposal to create exchanges that would allow individuals to have portable insurance and pay premiums with pre-tax dollars.
TODAY ROMNEY SAYS, “The market can work to solve our health care needs.” The policy recommendations on his campaign website back up his perspective on patient-centered reform. But primary voters aren’t. He needs to get off the defensive and take charge of this issue.
Here’s a three-step plan:
Step 1: Focus on Repeal of Obamacare.
Gov. Romney needs to get his message straight, or he will be hammered in the general election over false promises. He calls for repeal of Obamacare while saying he would immediately issue an executive order to give flexibility to the states to implement the law their way. That sets the stage to massively confuse the political agenda: He would be sending the states off to begin to implement Obamacare while Congress works in Washington to repeal it.
Further, the Congressional Research Service issued a report that said Obamacare’s major provisions are Acts of Congress, and they simply cannot be changed through an executive order.
His focus should be on repeal. Waivers to the states from Obamacare are not a solution and, in fact, might well detract from the ultimate goal of repealing the law and replacing it with a genuine free market alternative. If Gov. Romney is serious about repealing Obamacare, he will have to devote all of his energies to doing that as soon as possible.
The House of Representatives passed a repeal bill a few weeks after Republicans took control last year. In the Senate, many parts of Obamacare could be repealed through reconciliation with only 51 votes should Republicans take control there, allowing them to enact legislation repealing the spending provisions that are the biggest threat to the economy and to the federal deficit.
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