MANCHESTER, N.H. – During the Republican nomination race, Mitt Romney has had to reconcile his attack on President Obama’s health care law with the fact that as governor of Massachusetts, he signed legislation that was the model for the national law. But should he become the nominee, the Massachusetts program will no longer be a problem just for him, Romneycare will become a thorny issue for the entire Republican party.
Republicans nationwide, who have spent three years using the health care law to portray Obama as a socialist, will be asked how they can back a candidate who signed a law that, like Obamacare, mandated that individuals purchase insurance, expanded Medicaid, and provided government subsidies to individuals to purchase government-designed insurance policies on a government-run exchange.
In the spin room following last Saturday’s debate, I asked Romney endorsers South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty how they reconciled their opposition to Obamacare with their support for Romney.
“I don’t endorse his health care plan in Massachsetts,” Haley shot back. “I had a long conversation with Gov. Romney before I endorsed him. I said South Carolina cannot afford a health care mandate. We can’t have anything to do with a health care mandate. And he said, ‘my first day in office, I will give a health care waiver to South Carolina and any othe state that needs it, and I will start to repeal Obamacare immediately.’ That’s what I needed to hear.”
I then asked Haley what good the waiver would do on day one, given that under the language of the law, it wouldn’t kick in until 2017.
“If he doesn’t beat Obama, then we’re going to be in far more trouble than a waiver,” she responded. “So I will tell you that right now, I know he’s the only one that can truly make a difference and come in there and beat Obama and that’s why the Democrats are only talking about Mitt Romney.”
Pawlenty famously attacked Romney’s plan as “Obamneycare” during his failed presidential run last year (or at least tried to). I asked him how he could support Romney, even having acknowledged himself that the two plans were so strikingly similar.
“I talked to Mitt about this, and he has made it very clear that he does not support Obamacare, that he doesn’t want to federalize the health care system and that he’ll do everything he can to repeal it, including issuing a series of executive orders on day one of his presidency to repeal Obamacare,” he said. “So, I’m comfortable with that response.”
I also asked him how the waivers would do any good given that they wouldn’t kick in until 2017.
“I don’t know if the range of options for waivers is limited just to the waivers addressed in the Obamacare bill itself, or whether there’s some existing authority that goes beyond that, that would allow either the president or the Secretary of Health and Human Services to grant waivers,” he responded.
(The answer is that the president doesn’t have that authority, as detailed in this Congressional Research Study.)
Pawlenty then added, “Mitt is committed to repealing Obamacare, he’s opposed to it, and I’m satisfied by that answer.”
I asked Pawlenty how conservatives can trust Romney on this point, given his history of changing positions – something I reminded Pawlenty he noted during his own campaign.
“I know him well, I served with him as governor, I’ve spent time with him, we’ve talked about this issue,” he replied. “And I have complete confidence that he’ll stand behind it and do it.”
So that’s likely what we can expect to hear from elected Republicans this year as they rally around his candidacy, should he be the nominee -- whatever you say about Romney’s Massachusetts plan, he’ll repeal Obamacare because he says so, and that’s all that matters.