The Spectacle Blog

Mitt Romney and the Mandate

By on 3.5.12 | 10:37AM

We've read many confident assurances, in Ann Coulter columns and elsewhere, that Mitt Romney never intended his Massachusetts health care plan to be a national model and never supported unconstitutional federal individual mandates. This 2009 USA Today op-ed, written at the height of the Obamacare debate, is the latest piece of evidence suggesting that this isn't exactly true.

With the subheadline "Obama could learn a thing or two about health care reform in Massachusetts," Romney had this to say about mandates:

Our experience also demonstrates that getting every citizen insured doesn't have to break the bank. First, we established incentives for those who were uninsured to buy insurance. Using tax penalties, as we did, or tax credits, as others have proposed, encourages "free riders" to take responsibility for themselves rather than pass their medical costs on to others. This doesn't cost the government a single dollar.

Tax penalities, what a beautiful choice. But Peter Suderman pointed out in his Reason profile of Romney that this is hardly the only example of the candidate suggesting Romneycare could go national.

During his first presidential primary campaign, Romney enthusiastically touted the plan's national possibilities. "We have to have our citizens insured, and we're not going to do that by tax exemptions, because the people that don't have insurance aren't paying taxes," he said at an Iowa debate in August 2007. "What you have to do is what we did in Massachusetts. Is it perfect? No. But we say, let's rely on personal responsibility, help people buy their own private insurance, get our citizens insured, not with a government takeover, not with new taxes needed, but instead with a free-market-based system that gets all of our citizens in the system. No more free rides. It works."

In October of that year, Romney told the Republican Jewish Coalition: "I think we'll be successful nationwide. My plan, by the way, allows every citizen in America to get health insurance." Asked by CNN's John King at the time whether RomneyCare was a good model for the nation, he responded with a big grin, "Well, I think so."

These days, he thinks not. In an October 2011 debate on CNN, Romney insisted, despite evidence to the contrary, that "in the last campaign I was asked, 'Is this something you would have the whole nation do?' And I said no."

This is a candidate making a conservative case for the individual mandate -- and a candidate who seems poised to do well on Super Tuesday tomorrow. If Romney is nominated, this will have an impact on the Obamacare debate in the general election.

UPDATE: Ramesh Ponnuru provides some context suggesting that Romney was stopping just short of endorsing a federal insurance mandate in 2009. But when you look at the entire record, it is pretty clear that this ironclad distinction between state and federal mandates Romney is relying on is a fairly recent invention.

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