How Romney Advocated Obamacare and Lied About It

By
Pay no attention to the plan behind the curtain! Photo: Joe Raedle/2012 Getty Images

In 2009, Mitt Romney had a problem. He was running for the Republican presidential nomination, and the towering achievement of his governorship in Massachusetts — health-care reform — had been embraced by President Obama. Romneycare played almost no role in Romney’s 2008 presidential run, but the emergence of the issue onto the national agenda threatened to link Romney with a president Republicans had already come to loathe.

His solution was simple. He seized upon the one major difference between his plan and Obama’s, which was that Obama favored a public health insurance option. The public plan had commanded enormous public attention, and Romney used to it frame Masscare as a conservative reform relying on private health insurance, and against Obama’s proposal to create a government plan that, Romney claimed, would balloon into a massive entitlement. Andrew Kaczynski collects several televised appearances and one op-ed in which Romney holds up Masscare as a national model.

This tactic backfired when Obama had to jettison the public plan, and Republicans came to focus on the individual mandate as the locus of evil in Obamacare. What was once a Republican idea in good standing was now, suddenly, unconstitutional and the greatest threat to freedom in American history.

This left Romney in an awkward spot.

It’s hard to run for president as the advocate of an idea that your party considers the greatest threat to freedom in history. His response was to simply revise the past, much as he did with abortion. Romney now claimed he had never advocated a federal version of his Masscare program. Here’s Romney at the December 11 GOP presidential debate:

Speaker Gingrich said that he was for a federal individual mandate. That's something I've always opposed. What we did in our state was designed by the people in our state for the needs of our state. You believe in the 10th Amendment. I believe in the 10th Amendment. The people of Massachusetts favor our plan three to one. They don't like it, they can get rid of it. (COUGH) That's the great thing about (COUGH) a democracy, where individuals under the 10th Amendment have the power to craft their own solutions.

The coughs are in the original transcript, for what it’s worth. I’ll leave it to the psychiatrists to say whether we ought to read anything into them.

And here’s Romney at a January 23 debate:

My health care plan, by the way, is one that under our Constitution we're allowed to have. The people in our state chose a plan which I think is working for our state.

At the time we crafted it, I was asked time and again, "Is this something that you would have the federal government do?" I said absolutely not.

I do not support a federal mandate. I do not support a federal one-size-fits-all plan. I believe in the Constitution.

This is clearly untrue. Romney, as Kaczynski has shown, repeatedly held up the Massachusetts model in 2009. For instance, from the USA Today op-ed:

There’s a better way. And the lessons we learned in Massachusetts could help Washington find it. ..

For health care reform to succeed in Washington, the president must finally do what he promised during the campaign: Work with Republicans as well as Democrats.

Massachusetts also proved that you don’t need government insurance. Our citizens purchase private, free-market medical insurance. There is no “public option.” …

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.

The remarkable thing is that none of Romney’s opponents challenged these demonstrably false claims. If you check the transcripts of the debates, Romney simply lies about what he advocated, and then everybody lets it go.

Among other things, this underscores the sheer incompetence of his opposition. Kaczynski is an excellent researcher, but it’s not as if he had to comb the ends of the Earth to find these nuggets. He culled them from such sources as USA Today and Meet the Press. Every opposing campaign either failed to look up this basic stuff or failed to train the candidate to understand it. Romney is now on the verge of escaping with the party nomination having embraced a program his party considers inimical to freedom itself and blatantly lied about having done so without any major opponents pointing this out. It’s pretty incredible.