An opportunity for Mitt Romney?
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.
| February 1, 2011; 11:27 AM ET
Categories: 2012 Presidential
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