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“Running Against Himself”: Mitt Romney’s Supreme Burden

Congratulations to Mitt Romney! His signature contribution to American life, devising a health plan that became a model for the only major Western democracy without medical care for nearly all of its citizens, has been upheld. If Romney accomplishes nothing else in life, he will go down in history as the man who first proved, in the laboratory of Massachusetts, where he once governed, that an individual mandate could work.

Jeers to Mitt Romney! As the presumptive Republican nominee for president, he stood in front of the Capitol just after the Supreme Court ruling on Thursday and promised to fight in the coming campaign against one big idea — his own.

Now Romney has no choice but to run against himself. It was Rick Santorum who put it in blunt political terms during the Republican primary. Romney, he said, “is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama” because he is the intellectual godfather of the most consequential act of the Obama presidency.

If Romney was honest, and his party less locked in the grip of its far-right base, he could point with pride to the progress that Massachusetts has made. In the Bay State, compliance with the law is high, and nearly two-thirds of the people support it. The cost of insurance fell significantly in the first year after the law took effect. And fewer than 1 percent of the people chose to pay the penalty — or tax, as Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. helpfully clarified for Obamacare — rather than sign up for health insurance.

But the days of Romney praising his plan, which he did as recently as 2009, are long gone. Remember, it was in a moment of debate candor that Romney turned to Newt Gingrich and acknowledged the free-market, Republican origins of the mandate.

“We got the idea from Newt,” said Romney. “And Newt got it from the Heritage Foundation.” And the idea is a simple one: freeloaders cost the system billions and indirectly raise insurance for those who do the right thing.

To please a Republican Party that waves its gnarled fists at progress, Romney promises, crosses his heart and swears on his mother’s grave that he will repeal Obamacare on Day 1 of his presidency.

Except that, hedge, hedge, he wants the law’s most popular features — preventing insurance companies from dumping people who get sick or denying care to those with pre-existing conditions — to remain on the books.

All of this just reinforces Romney’s worst character flaw — the weasel factor. Every time he opens his mouth to denounce the individual mandate, he contradicts one of the most successful things he ever did as governor.

Plus, the Republican majority in the House has no intention of passing any measure that would keep the most popular parts of the health care act intact. Instead, the House will most likely vote next month to repeal the whole law, and from there it will sit in the Senate and await the election outcome in November.

The mandate is unpopular, without doubt. But big pieces of the law are supported by large majorities. People love the fact that insurance companies no longer have lifetime caps on coverage — an especially crucial element for those with long-term, chronic illness. Older Americans like closing the so-called doughnut hole in prescription drug coverage. Families like the part that allows children to stay on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26. And the medical community likes the law’s emphasis on preventive care.

We can expect a great deal of histrionic stewing and stomping from the Tea Party. Some of its followers have already called for Justice Roberts to be impeached or step down. Too bad Romney’s campaign Web site says he will nominate judges “in the mold of” John Roberts. We’ll see if that statement remains by next week.

The Tea Party, even with the flares that will light up after the court ruling, is a spent force, and most Americans have turned against it.

But Romney still has to carry the Tea Party’s anger at a time when independents — the key to the election — are sick of hyper-partisan scraps and want real solutions to national problems.

The health care law, if tweaked to help small businesses and properly implemented, can join Medicare and Social Security — which are, after all, mandates through taxes — as popular programs that elevate American life and help average people.

President Obama now gets a chance to resell his biggest legislative achievement. He did just that on Thursday, in a brief (for him) and very effective summary of the principles of the health care law: “People who can afford to buy health insurance should take the responsibility to do so.”

Sound familiar? It’s very close to what Romney said in 2009: “Using tax penalties, as we did, or tax credits, as others have proposed, encourages free riders to take responsibility for themselves rather than pass on their medical costs to others.”

Wait till the presidential debates, when Obama can use the words of Mitt Romney, health care pioneer, against Mitt Romney, health care obstructionist.


By: Timothy Egan, The New York Times Opinionator, June 28, 2012

June 30, 2012 - Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , ,

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