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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Mitt Romney. Click image to expand.
Mitt Romney

Republicans are threatening that any Democrat who votes for the health care reform bill will pay the consequences in November. "Every election this fall will be a referendum on this bill," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said March 7 on ABC News'This Week. "Democrats think by passing the bill they'll be able to get it behind them and change the subject to something else like jobs," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told reporters March 8. "But this will do the opposite. This will make sure that health care is the No. 1 issue that the election is won or lost on in November."

Well, maybe. But there's a decent likelihood that the first to perish under this Republican fatwa won't be a Democrat running in 2010 but a Republican running in 2012. His name is Mitt Romney.

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I won't attempt to conceal my schadenfreude when I say that Romney's tortured argument that the health reform now contemplated in Washington bears no resemblance to the health reform he achieved as governor in Massachusetts is beginning to look just as phony to conservatives as it does to liberals like me. Case in point: When Romney started fulminating March 8 on Fox News Sunday against "the idea that government can step in and take over the health care system, and tell insurers and providers and doctors and hospitals how to do a better job" (text, video) the host, Chris Wallace, called a timeout. "Governor," Wallace said, "I want to pick up on this, because we got a lot of e-mail from conservatives this week who said that you are the wrong man to be making that point, and they pointed specifically to your role in passing health care reform in Massachusetts."

Ouch.

"There's a big difference between what we did and what President Obama is doing," Romney replied. "What we did, I think, is the ultimate conservative plan. We said people have to take responsibility for getting insurance, if they can afford it, or paying their own way. No more free riders."

Bad answer! The "individual mandate" requiring everyone to have health insurance is something Obama's and Romney's plans have in common—and one, by the way, that Republicans have lately taken to calling unconstitutional. (They're wrong, but that's what they're saying, even though some of them used to say something else.) "But Governor," Wallace answered,

Let's look at the plan that you signed into law in Massachusetts in 2006. You have an individual mandate. You have an employer mandate. You have subsidies for some of the uninsured. You set minimum insurance coverage standards. Again, a lot of e-mails I got from conservatives say—make this point. They say it sure sounds an awful lot like Obamacare.

Mayday! Mayday!

"A big difference—a state plan versus a federal plan," Romney parried. He continued:

No new taxes, unlike his plan. No cut in Medicare, unlike his plan. And no controls over insurance premiums, price controls, cost controls like his plan. So very, very different in that regard. It's the difference between a racehorse and a donkey, if you will, so—they both have four legs, but one works pretty well and the other's not working and would not work at all.