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Posted at 11:27 AM ET, 02/ 1/2011

An opportunity for Mitt Romney?

By Ezra Klein

washisbrokenromney.jpg

I think Ben Smith is right that if the fight over health-care reform moves from the Congress to the courts, Mitt Romney's viability in the Republican presidential primary improves dramatically:

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.

I've assumed that Republicans had essentially exhausted their options for universal health-care proposals at this point. After Bill Clinton adopted Richard Nixon's employer-focused plan, Republicans -- Romney included -- retreated to a plan based around an individual mandate. After Barack Obama adopted Romney's plan, Republicans retreated to ... nothing at all. They simply dropped the dream of universal coverage.

But in principle, universal coverage is enduringly popular. That's traditionally been true even among Republican voters (I'd love to see more recent polling on this question if anyone has it). And there's another category of plans that I hadn't considered: state-based proposals.

Over the years, various politicians have proposed federalist pathways to universal care. The federal government would set out some basic conditions -- X percentage of residents covered with insurance that's at least up to X standard -- and provide some funding, and states could go their own way. Ron Wyden and Scott Brown, in fact, have a proposal to turn the Affordable Care Act into that bill, at least for the states that want to take advantage of it.

With the Republican argument against the Affordable Care Act trending in a federalist direction, you could imagine some conservative politician who actually wanted to solve the coverage problem embracing something like this. Romney hasn't been known for his courage as a campaigner, but if he wanted to go on offense, he could develop a proposal along these lines and use it to both frame his effort in Massachusetts as a good thing -- after all, he did bring near-universal coverage to his state -- and create a policy platform that allows him to offer actual solutions to the nation's problems (an important part of any general election campaign) while maintaining a harsh critique of Washington. He wouldn't even need to change the banner he's using in his rallies, which you can see atop this post.

Photo credit: CC license from Raw Mustard.

By Ezra Klein  | February 1, 2011; 11:27 AM ET
Categories:  2012 Presidential  
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Comments

Once more, with gusto: as one who up in a conservative Republican family in a ruby-red state, I can state unequivocally that Mitt Romney has virtually no chance of becoming the GOP nominee. He's a Mormon, which is anathema to the evangelical base, and was once publicly pro-choice, which is even more unacceptable. Why can't you grasp this?

Posted by: scarlota | February 1, 2011 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Paying for universal coverage, however, is not universally popular.

Liberals are very stingy about volunteering to pay the requisite taxes.

Posted by: krazen1211 | February 1, 2011 11:45 AM | Report abuse

This is true if opposition to the mandate is the reason Republicans oppose health care reform and in general why health care reform is not broadly popular. This is clearly not true.

What do you think would happen if legislation was introduced to repeal the mandate and replace it with two provisions.
First, any sort of provision to prevent gaming the system to wait until you were sick to get health insurance and second, a prohibition on cost shifting the cost of covering those who chose to remain uninsured onto other states (e.g. the feds). That is, if Texas wants freedom, it should pay for it. If Massachusetts wants to enslave its citizens to save money, great. Could that proposal get any Republican votes in congress at all? I think not, because opposing everything about any health care reform is the single greatest Republican priority and the priority of the base.

Posted by: windshouter | February 1, 2011 12:14 PM | Report abuse

But aren't you assuming that this nuanced position of "Obamacare is ok on the state level" won't be twisted against him by the base in a primary? His opponents all know that is a weakness of his and they will exploit it; there is evidence of him supporting this on a federal level. That, on top of his former liberal social positions, should sink him, if the Republican primary electorate stays the same. I think he (along with Huntsman) are betting that the GOP will turn over from the Tea Party by 2012, but I doubt it.

Posted by: NICKinNOVA | February 1, 2011 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Republicans only care about their core voters who have money which is a subset of their core. Their game plan is " do whatever you want as long as our wealthy don't get charged a dime for it"

That core is at best 2% of the population and the rest who support them have the illusion they will join the elites. Its a selfish and predicitble set of behaviors.

Posted by: EducatingTheFools | February 1, 2011 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Once again, with gusto, I will declare how tired I am of hearing comments about how Romney is not electable because of his religion. I would ask those making such remarks to read Article VI of our constitution or Jefferson's Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. The fact that Romney is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a resume enhancer.

Posted by: wdwrightii | February 1, 2011 1:04 PM | Report abuse

The Southern evangelicals will never support Romney as the nominee, period. And without the support of Southern evangelicals he can't win the nomination. Anyone who asserts otherwise knows diddly about the Republican base.

Posted by: scarlota | February 1, 2011 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Federal vs. state is irrelevant when it comes to the mandate, as well as Romney's role in it. 70% of Americans oppose this kind of unprecedented mandate (so that's about half of Democrats too, including me.) They don't care whether it's federal or state, a mandate to participate in commerce against your will is not how America works. Romney's done no matter what.

Posted by: michaelh81 | February 1, 2011 1:55 PM | Report abuse

There is universal medical care in the US. If you don't have insurance, you go to the county emergency room. Service sucks, but you get what you pay for.

There's Medicaid if you're too poor to pay for medical insurance. What's the problem that is being solved by Obamacare?

Back in 1938 if there had been a CBO, how would they have scored Social Security? Yeah, it would have significantly reduced the deficit. Same with Medicare when it was first enacted. We've seen what's actually happened over time, and Obamacare will be no different.

Democrats, please be honest. Obamacare is nothing more than another naked attempt to secure more chains attaching the American voter to dependency on government, leading to more support for the Democrat Party. It will lead to fiscal ruin, and worse health outcomes.

If Democrats really cared about the health of Americans, they would heed the findings of the Dietary Guideline Report published by the Depts of Agriculture and HHS. It finds that 3/4s of every healthcare dollar is spent on chronic diseases related to diet and exercise.

To really solve this supposed healthcare problem you would significantly raise Medicare payroll taxes, and then offer discounts based on blood pressure, cholestorol levels, body fat percentage, and other measurements completely under the control of every citizen. With a policy like that, our healthcare costs as a percentage of GDP would fall below every single industrialized nation within 7 years.

I call it Michelle Obamacare. Get it, on!

Posted by: ElGipper | February 1, 2011 1:55 PM | Report abuse

@ ElGipper -> But there was no CBO to score Medicare or Social Security, so, essentially, you have dug deep into an oriface to pull out an assumption without basis in fact. Oh, and Social Security isn't adding to our deficit.

Posted by: NICKinNOVA | February 1, 2011 2:28 PM | Report abuse

@ ElGipper -> But there was no CBO to score Medicare or Social Security, so, essentially, you have dug deep into an orifice to pull out an assumption without basis in fact. Oh, and Social Security isn't adding to our deficit.

Posted by: NICKinNOVA | February 1, 2011 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Though her name isn't mentioned, this article is clearly about the fear of Sarah Palin becoming president. Why else would leftist Ezra Klein be highlighting an opportunity for Mitt Romney to improve his standing in the Republican primary?

I'll tell you why. Because even a Communist flag-waving sycophant such as Ezra Klein recognizes (albeit a bit late in the game) the jerry-built, collapsing ruin that is the Obama administration in particular, and the Democrat party in general. He knows - like everyone else - that Obama is unelectable. He also knows there is no viable Democrat candidate for 2012.

So he is promoting the most centrist Republican candidate out there, in the hopes that Romney will be an ineffective placeholder (he will) until the leftists can get another Democrat elected in 2016 (they won't).

If I were a liberal, I'd be getting behind Romney. I sure as HECK would be running from Palin, who is the figurehead of the counter-revolution. That is why liberals loathe her - she goes against their beloved Obama at every turn, and is not afraid to call out his hypocrisy, his mis-statements, his ineptness, his empty promises and his sheer arrogance toward the American people.

Why else has the Washington Post "refused to even speak of Palin during the month of February"? They're scared sh*tless of this woman, realize the monster they've created in their lame attempts to tear her down, and are now hoping that a media blackout will make her go away.

Posted by: QuineGeology | February 1, 2011 2:37 PM | Report abuse

ElGipper:

We had social security and medicaid and medicare in the late '90's and had balanced budgets. For social security, the program ran 50 years while being expanded before tweaks were needed in the '80s which keep the program completely intact for at least another 26 years. For Medicare, the program ran say 40 years before part D was added with no funding source at all. I guess I'd take health care reform for 40 years or so and worry about tweaking it in 2050.

Of course, if we discount the CBO, how do you know we are in trouble on entitlements at all? It's all projections and assumptions after all.

Posted by: windshouter | February 1, 2011 4:00 PM | Report abuse

"but if he wanted to go on offense, he could develop a proposal along these lines and use it to both frame his effort in Massachusetts as a good thing"

Nahh, Mitt is doomed. Centrism- a Social and fiscal moderate- is the only way for a GOP candidate to win in Massachusetts, but its poison among Republican primary voters in the rest of the country.

The opening is for populism- conservative on social issues, liberal (or rather, big spending) on fiscal issues. In other words, counter-program against the rest of the field as the modern equivalent of George Wallace's (as the National Review dubbed it) 'Country and Western Marxism'. Lets see, pro-war and social conservative down the line, anti-immigration (fencing Mexican border, E-verify) anti-free trade (tariffs and use revenue to cut payroll taxes), anti-Wall Street (securities transactions tax, also to cut payroll taxes), End the Fed (or more precisely, put it under Tsy), full-on infrastructure spending, national version of Alaska's annual dividend payout.

As to your point above, argue that Obamacare isn't socialism (that's at your local VA hospital), its corporate welfare. Demand that we cover everyone with Medicare and you leave every other candidate tongue-tied as to why they strongly support Medicare for 65 year olds but strongly oppose it for 64 year olds. The important thing is, as Nixon taught us, the best way to sell progressive policy is by framing it in conservative terms, ideally by a candidate widely seen as angry (if not spiteful).

Posted by: beowulf_ | February 1, 2011 4:09 PM | Report abuse

"Though her name isn't mentioned, this article is clearly about the fear of Sarah Palin becoming president."

You are a stupid person. Try to be less stupid, or, if that is not possible, please keep your stupidity to yourself and advise other stupid people to do likewise.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | February 1, 2011 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Say your car has been in an accident, but repaired. Is it worth less than the exact same car that hasn't been in an accident? It's a hot topic, but some say yes. In 14 states, you're allowed to file a claim with your insurance company for that lost value. check out clearance auto insurance website to find secrets to reduce auto insurance rates

Posted by: leonli02 | February 2, 2011 12:57 AM | Report abuse

Say your car has been in an accident, but repaired. Is it worth less than the exact same car that hasn't been in an accident? It's a hot topic, but some say yes. In 14 states, you're allowed to file a claim with your insurance company for that lost value. check out clearance auto insurance website to find secrets to reduce auto insurance rates

Posted by: leonli02 | February 2, 2011 1:01 AM | Report abuse

I saw George S work him over on this on Good Morning America & I wasn't impressed or convinced. FlipFlopper ran thru my mind though & he has a history of that. I'll be whatever you want......just make me president. Much worse than O's "negotiating poorly" as you always whine!

Posted by: carolerae48 | February 2, 2011 1:19 AM | Report abuse

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