Mitt Romney On Mass. Health Reform: No Apologies, But Not For Everyone

During last year's debate, Romney struggled to distinguish the Massachusetts plan, which his spokesman called his "signature" accomplishment as governor — with its exchange, mandates, and subsidies — from a federal plan that shared its policy pedigree and had obviously been constructed along the same lines.

One of Romney's weak arguments was that the Massachusetts plan was fundamentally different, as a matter of policy, because it had been enacted on a state rather than federal level. The argument got little traction and Romney, after an effort in the Spring of 2010 to explain his record, simply fell silent.

Romney's argument is now much stronger. Because the main objection to ObamaCare, as its critics call it, is no longer a matter of policy nuance. Now critics primarily make the case that it's an unconstitutional expansion of specifically federal power. And on that turf, the similar structure of the plans doesn't matter. Romney enacted his at a state level, and states have — conservatives argue — more power to regulate the insurance industry, as they do with car insurance.

Background: Many think that Mitt Romney's prominent role in Massachusetts health care reform will prove a liability for him among Republican voters in his next presidential run. Voters who don't like the federal health reform, which is partly modeled on what he helped wreak in Massachusetts, could turn against him.

But yesterday, on the talk show circuit, Romney portrayed the issue as one of states' rights: The Massachusetts reform — extending near-universal health care access and requiring almost everyone to have insurance — works here, but that doesn't mean the federal government should impose it on other states. In a couple of nutshells:

From The Wonk Room:

Mitt Romney appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America today and offered no apology for the Massachusetts health reform plan he signed as governor, even after a district judge in Florida challenged the constitutionality of the individual health mandate. “I’m not apologizing for it, I’m indicating that we went in one direction and there are other possible directions. I’d like to see states pursue their own ideas, see which ideas work best,” Romney said, arguing that a state can force citizens to purchase insurance, but the federal government cannot:

ROMNEY: I think it is a very bad piece of legislation. I think the President should have been more attuned to what we did in our own state, which is we allowed each state to create a solution to the uninsured in the way that the states thought best, that’s the way the Constitution intended it. We are a federalist system. We don’t need the federal government imposing a one-size-fits all plan on the entire nation.

From The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire here:

What’s right for Massachusetts isn’t necessarily right for Florida – or New Hampshire, for that matter.
That’s the basic argument former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney made Tuesday in defense of his state’s health-care law during a pair of television appearances to promote his book, “No Apology: The Case for American Greatness” – and, ostensibly, a second presidential bid.

The Massachusetts law, which Mr. Romney signed and helped to craft, includes a requirement that most residents carry health insurance. It has emerged as an early liability for Mr. Romney, a Republican, in his expected bid for the White House.

Mr. Romney said he agreed with the federal judge in Florida who on Monday ruled a similar mandate in the federal health-care law runs afoul of the Constitution, and he sought to distinguish what he did as governor in Massachusetts and what President Barack Obama — his potential opponent — wants to do nationally.

“States have rights that the federal government doesn’t have,” Mr. Romney told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “States have the rights to, for instance, mandate kids going to school, mandate auto insurance.”

“The last thing you want to see is the federal government usurping the power of states,” Mr. Romney said, repeatedly calling the federal law “unconstitutional” and “a bad piece of legislation,” in part, because, in his eyes, it does just that. “What works in one state is not going to work somewhere else.”

He repeated the point in an appearance on ABC’s “The View”: “We addressed a problem in Massachusetts that was designed to solve problems for the people of Massachusetts,” Mr. Romney said, sitting on program’s famed couch. “But it is wrong and unconstitutional to take what is designed for one state and say we are going to apply that in every state.”

“What we did will not work in Texas, will not work in California,” he said.


Responding to critics of the Massachusetts law, such as former Bush adviser Karl Rove, who has called it Mr. Romney’s biggest liability, the former governor said: “I’m not going to apologize for the rights of states to craft plans on a bipartisan basis that they think will help their people,” showing a stridency sometimes lacking in his last presidential bid.

This program aired on February 2, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

Headshot of Carey Goldberg

Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



More from WBUR

Listen Live