Will health reform's first political casualty be Mitt Romney?

How to fix health policy.
March 10 2010 5:03 PM

Is Mitt Going Down?

Health reform's first political casualty may be a Republican.

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It was a nice try, but Wallace didn't buy it.

I want to pursue this, if I may, Governor. The libertarian, and certainly the somewhat conservative, Cato Institute says that your plan in Massachusetts is a mirror—a mirror plan of  Obamacare. They say it's quite right you didn't raise taxes, but they say, in fact, you got millions of dollars from the federal government to finance your plan.

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Actually, Romneycare did raise taxes in Massachusetts—as noted by Cato's Michael F. Cannon here and by Cato's Michael Tanner here. Cannon cited a Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation estimate that the Massachusetts health reform costs state taxpayers $88 million per year (and then argued this lowballed the true cost to state taxpayers by a factor of 19). But Wallace was right about the "millions of dollars from the federal government." State funding is matched by a roughly equivalent amount from Washington, as Romney conceded.

"No government insurance," Romney finally bleated. "No government option, if you will." "Well, there's no government option in the Obama plan anymore, either," Wallace pointed out. "No, that's right," answered Romney. "That's right. And so what we did was entirely different than what President Obama is proposing on the bases that I'm taking you through."

This didn't go down well at the Club For Growth, the conservative group whose specialty is killing off Republican incumbents suspected of moderate tendencies. As recently as 2007, the Club For Growth's president, Pat Toomey, pronounced himself "reasonably optimistic that, as president, Mitt Romney would generally advocate a pro-growth agenda." But according to Greg Sargent of the Plum Line, Andy Roth, the group's vice president for government affairs, now feels less sanguine. "The individual mandate is diametrically against what free-market conservatives believe in," he said. If Romney thinks it's a conservative policy, "then I think he is in the wrong party."

Ouch.

This skirmish comes four months after Glenn Beck of Fox News said, in a Webcast, that Romney "gave you government health care that is now bankrupting the state of Massachusetts." (The "bankrupting" part isn't true, but never mind.) Rush Limbaugh's a little ticked off at Romney, too (though not over health reform, for some reason; Limbaugh's peeved that Romney endorsed Sen. John McCain, whom Limbaugh has never much liked, in the Arizona Republican primary). And writing in the conservative Boston Herald ("Mitt Romney Dogged By Health Care"), Hillary Chabot pointed out March 9 that Romneycare (unlike Obamacare) allowed low-income Bay Staters to receive government-funded abortions. Wait till House Minority Leader John Boehner hears about that! Romney had little choice, he said through a spokesman, because he was abiding by a court decision. That argument didn't help Mike Dukakis in 1988. A Democrat might buy it, but Republicans can be vicious about such things.

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E-mail Timothy Noah at chatterbox@slate.com.

Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.