Mitt Romney, seeking to extricate himself from conservative ire over his support for Massachusetts health care reform, gave a speech in Michigan to talk about that effort and what he sees as the differences with the federal health care effort supported by President Obama. Romney is stuck, amongst many things, on the individual mandate, which has become a source of bitter opposition to conservatives. In his speech Romney defended the individual mandate, pointing to the “free ride” that the pre-mandate system was providing. But his “friends” over at the Wall Street Journal editorial page beg to differ:
In the name of personal responsibility, Mr. Romney also introduced the individual mandate, first in the nation, requiring everyone to buy coverage or else pay a penalty. Free riders, he said, transferred their own costs to others, either through higher premiums or taxes. This is the same argument the Obama Administration is now using to justify the coercion of the individual mandate in the federal courts. Because the states have police powers under the Constitution, Mr. Romney’s plan posed no legal problems. His blunder was his philosophy of government.
The people who don’t buy coverage though they can afford it aren’t really a major fiscal problem—unless the goal of the individual mandate is to force them to subsidize others. People who are priced out of coverage require subsidies—so in practice the logic of the individual mandate is that it is a government mandate too. Entitlements automatically grow and grow, and then the political class begins to make decisions that used to be left to markets and individuals.
Mitt sent a post speech letter to the Journal rebutting their claims.
One, the editorial asserts that people in Massachusetts who wouldn’t buy coverage, even though they could afford it, was not a major fiscal problem. But as a state we were spending almost $1 billion on free care for the uninsured. What we did was convert that money into premium support for those who needed help buying a policy, and require those uninsured who could afford to buy coverage to take personal responsibility for their own health care.
The Wall Street Journal editorial hits at another point that seems to bother Republicans about Romney, that he is more “management consultant” than a “principled conservative”.
Presidents lead by offering a vision for the country rooted in certain principles, not by promising a technocracy that runs on “data.” Mr. Romney’s highest principle seems to be faith in his own expertise.
Ouch! Romney at heart is a technocrat who believes that data crunching and deep analysis can solve problems, but that model has long been abandoned by the Republican Party (and in the last election cycle by Romney himself). When the “data” fail to corroborate Republican policy claims the rebuttal is that the Republicans will stand on principle, notwithstanding the data.
Romney’s tete-a-tete with the Journal editorial page did not stop with the editorial and rebuttal letter. The Journal felt compelled to write a second editorial slamming Romney for his “daredevil act.”
I understand and actually think it is commendable that Romney defend his actions as Governor (reportedly tired of being painted as a serial flip-flopper)but I am not so sure that having a major dust up with the Wall Street Journal editorial board is going to help him in the Republican nomination fight. It looks to me like Romney is still the smartest guy in the room on the Republican side, but adult management consultant types tend to be red-meat averse, not a winning trait these days for Republicans.
Romney has received plenty of media coverage, including some favorable words from the Globe:
When discussing his Massachusetts plan, and later outlining his ideas on how to bring market forces to bear on health care costs, Romney offered realistic assessments and some useful, pragmatic solutions: more group purchasing of insurance, the use of tax-free savings accounts to cover premiums, “alternative dispute resolution’’ rather than malpractice courts — all are smart proposals that could do some measurable good.
At those moments, one could see the gifted businessman at work. If Romney were free to use his incisive mind to craft pragmatic solutions to national problems, the country would benefit. He’s a talented public servant.
Romney also was piled on by Mike Huckabee, who seems to take delight in tormenting the Mittster. Governor Patrick joined in the hit parade, calling out Romney for trying to “have it both ways” on health care.
Romney has made an effort, but he is still a Republican apostate on health care. His political strategy appears to be looking towards the general election, and not the Republican primary process. That is a gutsy call, but I am not so sure it will bring him the nomination. Those thirty second health care ads linking him to “socialized medicine” are certainly on the horizon, dead ahead!