Sunday, March 4, 2012

SCANDAL! Romney Endorsed The Mandate!

If you have been paying even cursory attention to politics for the last, oh, say, six months, you know that one of Romney's major weaknesses is that he authored RomneyCare--mandated health care for his state of Massachusetts. It was the blue-print for the hated ObamaCare (the Affordable Care Act or ACA) and ... uh ... what? He's never refudiated--or even repudiated--RomneyCare. Instead he gives us some "It's okay for states to do this--but not the Federal Government--guff."


But what you did not know is that as late as 2009 he was encouraging Obama to adopt a mandate!

Here is a quote from the article.
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. Second, we helped pay for our new program by ending an old one — something government should do more often. The federal government sends an estimated $42 billion to hospitals that care for the poor: Use those funds instead to help the poor buy private insurance, as we did.
This has drawn fire from various horrified conservative pundits like RedState's Erick Erickson:
Friends, if Mitt Romney is the nominee, we will be unable to fight Obama on an issue that 60% of Americans agree with us on
What's Interesting About This?
The interesting part about this newest scandal isn't the scandal itself (although there is some interesting stuff there)--but the response (other than "Oh, horrors--there he goes again!"). Let's take a look.

1. The Mysterious Disappearing Article
The Op-Ed was printed in USA Today--but is apparently gone from their archives! No fear: the way back machine has the link! Why was it missing in the first place? No one knows. It does appear in the "printed edition of the paper" link though (which is, ironically, also online!). In any event, it took some looking to find it--but a conservative reporter did!

Conspiracy? Or just a web-screw up? You decide.

2. The Reactions!
The reactions to this are what I find compelling. Here are some in no particular order.

  • Here cones the Obama Oppo-Dump: In this view the Obama administration along with what Breitbart called the Democrat-Media Complex are starting their negative-media dump early. Perhaps to weaken Romney against Santorum? Although Erick Erickson doesn't attribute this specifically to the Obama campaign (he thinks the campaign would've saved this for October), he does attribute this to it: "
And let me tell you what else is going to happen: Democrats sense such a strong vulnerability now and sniff a chance of a Santorum nomination, they aren’t going to wait for the general election to start dumping oppo research on Romney. Get ready Romney supporters, this is just the opening salvo."
In this formulation there is a stockpile of negative research that the Obama team has and they're waiting for an opportune moment. Ideally this would be October--but perhaps it has to be now in order to damage him against Rick Santorum?
... Most people are so thoroughly confused by Romney’s position on federal and state health care that they’re not sure what’s a gotcha anymore and what isn’t. For instance, we already know that Romney said in 2010 he’d prefer to get rid of the bad parts of ObamaCare but “keep the good,” and it was pretty clear at the time that he thought the “incentives” in the law a la Massachusetts’s mandate were some of the good parts. He also allegedly once told a conservative blogger flat out that he wouldn’t repeal O-Care’s mandate, but there was no audio to prove it.
In this formulation there's no conspiracy--it's just what Romney does. And Newt and Santorum? Their proto-campaigns are weak in the oppo.
  • He's peaking too soon! One of the theories is that bringing this out early actually helps Romney. Opposition dumps are like a disease and if it's old news it's like you're vaccinated. I find this questionable and don't have a quote for it (it's more of a comments thing) but it's an interesting position. 
  • This is, uh, old news--wasn't this covered in the first two debates? The answer is "kinda." Romney has said a lot about ObamaCare including step-by-step plans to get rid of it (issue every state a waiver on day one, etc.). Whether or not that covers this new story is up to the beholder: if you didn't already know Romney has changed positions a few times you haven't been paying attention. I'll say this: the reaction I've seen doesn't make it look like it was old news.

What Do I Think?
The question "what is this campaign really about" is highlighted by this issue. A lot of Republican voters and strategists think the #1 issue is the repeal of ObamaCare. Both Newt and Santorum have made that explicit. Romney only does when he has to. ObamaCare is not Romney's signature issue: fixing the economy is (he may claim that ObamaCare is suppressing the economy and that's fine--but even the repealing it--or just "fixing the bad parts"--is a plank instead of the platform).

ObamaCare is seen as a winning issue issue for the GOP and with some reason (the link is to its popularity hitting approximately that of remaining in Afghanistan in Oct 2011) . While that might be trending in the other direction (link is to a Kaiser healthcare poll showing it getting a bit more popular) it's certainly high-ground with which to take on Obama.

So this break goes straight to the heart of the argument for or against Romney: if he's likely to cede some credibility on ObamaCare, what's left of his argument? That he can otherwise jump-start the economy? It's not a bad argument, honestly: people care more about jobs than healthcare right now and the kerfluffle over contraception may have damaged the GOP brand on that front anyway--but with news like this coming out it's more reason for the Tea Party to wonder if Romney is "acceptable"--especially since, having failed to stop him in Michigan, they're probably stuck with him.

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