These remarks in New Hampshire offer a preview of how Mitt Romney plans to handle Romneycare during the 2012 presidential campaign:
Living in New Hampshire, you've heard of our healthcare program next door in Massachusetts. You may have noticed that the President and his people spend more time talking about me and Massachusetts healthcare than Entertainment Tonight spends talking about Charlie Sheen.
Our approach was a state plan intended to address problems that were in many ways unique to Massachusetts. What we did was what the Constitution intended for states to do-we were one of the laboratories of democracy.
Our experiment wasn't perfect -- some things worked, some didn't, and some things I'd change. One thing I would never do is to usurp the constitutional power of states with a one-size-fits-all federal takeover.
Romney emphasizes, "I would repeal Obamacare, if I were ever in a position to do so." Intellectually, this is an argument that can be made, though I am not sure how much force it will have politically. Nevertheless, Romney is trying to make the best of a bad situation. He cannot defend a health care plan that so closely resembles Obamacare. Neither can he repudiate his own health care plan, because it will deprive him of a policy accomplishment and, more importantly, give him a new flip-flop as problematic as his abortion gymnastics.
But here is the problem that remains: Romney has repeatedly and publicly defended the individual mandate. The conservative policy wonks who helped him design Romneycare were not opposed to an individual mandate nationally. The individual mandate has become the main focus of successful constitutional challenges to Obamacare, yet a Romney candidacy threatens to put the focus back on the individual mandate's 1990s Republican pedigree. This will prove difficult for Romney to triangulate his way out of.
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