If someone asked you to come up with a good reason that Mitt Romney—the boring one-term governor of a state he left with high debt, poor job-creation and low approval ratings—became a credible national candidate, you might have a hard time doing so. The fact that he is wealthy and could self-finance his way into the top tier of Republican presidential contenders helped, as did the fact that he had won in the bluest of states, Massachusetts.
But the main reason, ironically, is that he was associated with a policy achievement—healthcare reform—that he has completely come to oppose. Back in 2007, Republicans still pretended to care about the crisis of 45 million uninsured Americans and costs that keep spiraling upwards. And so they looked to the one Republican who had tackled that problem at the state level and had done so with a program that harnessed the private sector rather than creating a massive new entitlement program. Conservative organs such as National Review, which would later inveigh against the Affordable Care Act (ACA), cited Romney’s experience with reforming the health insurance system as one of his most valuable credentials.
Throughout this campaign Romney has walked a tiny tightrope on healthcare: he attempts to make amends for passing the state level template for the ACA by issuing over the top denunciations of socialist, unconstitutional “Obamacare.” Meanwhile he has studiously avoided saying anything of substance about how he would address the massive market failure that defined the pre-reform American healthcare system.
On Tuesday in Orlando Romney gave a speech intended to create the false impression that he intends to replace the ACA with something that would provide the same benefits through other means. Here is how the Washington Post summarized the speech: “Romney fleshed out a plan he proposed earlier that would apply free-enterprise principles to the nation’s health-care system rather than operate it like a ‘government-managed utility,’ letting competition drive down prices and increase quality.” The “earlier” they refer to is Romney’s big healthcare speech last May that was meant to make it clear how different he is from Obama on the subject.
That was the main thrust again on Tuesday. Romney repeated the usual right-wing shibboleths: that the ACA has hamstrung the economic recovery by placing “unaffordable” cost burdens and new taxes on families and businesses. He has been at this for a while, using misleading anecdotes, such as his blatant misrepresentation of a passage from Noam Scheiber’s book that he claims shows the White House knew healthcare reform would damage the recovery, when it only shows that it knew more stimulus might have been more valuable to the short-term recovery. Of course, had Obama proposed more stimulus spending instead of healthcare reform in the fall of 2009, Romney and other Republicans would have opposed it.
In fact, the Romney campaign appears to disagree with the Post that Romney offered much more substance than he did last May. When I asked for details of what he is proposing, the campaign said he laid it out last year and the program is available on the campaign website.