What does Mitt Romney really think about Obamacare? Romney and his partisans would like you to think one thing – that he was and is a conservative; that he was and is opposed to big government; that, as Governor in Massachusetts, he was not an enthusiast for Romneycare; that he merely made the best of a bad situation; that he did not seek to rally the rest of us to follow Massachusetts’ example; that he always resolutely opposed enacting something similar at the federal level; and that he is and always has been a principled defender of federalism who regards Obamacare as unconstitutional.
None of this is, in fact, true. Romney is a managerial progressive on the model of Herbert Hoover, Thomas E. Dewey, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, and John McCain. He is what Dewey called “a New-Deal Republican.” He was a consistent supporter of programs like Obamacare until this election campaign, and the minute he thinks that he can get away with it, he will once again show his true colors. We may find in the Fall that we have to vote for him because the other alternative is far, far worse (which it undoubtedly is), but we should not kid ourselves about what we are doing when we do it. Almost all of the men mentioned above posed as conservatives when they wanted our votes. Then, those who got elected sold us down the river.
On Romney’s stance, the evidence is dispositive. If he was and is a conservative opposed to big government; if, as Governor in Massachusetts, he was not an enthusiast for Romneycare; if he merely made the best of a bad situation, why did he write an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on 11 April 2006 entitled “Healthcare for Everyone? We Found a Way,” touting his accomplishment and recommending Romneycare as a model to be imitated in the other states. If Romney was and is a principled defender of federalism who genuinely regards Obamacare as unconstitutional, why – in a speech delivered in Baltimore on 2 February 2007 – did he describe Romneycare as “a model for the nation?”
If you are inclined to credit the claim, advanced by Romney’s partisans, that Newsweek misquoted Romney’s speech or quoted it out of context, you should look at the op-ed he published in USA Today on 30 July 2009 – in the midst of the debate concerning President Barack Obama’s healthcare plan. This piece you should read in its entirety twice – both for what it says and what it leaves unsaid. When Romney was Governor of Massachusetts and thinking about running for re-election, he touted the virtues of federalism (without ever expressly denying that what he had done in Massachusetts could properly be duplicated on the national level). When he recognized that he had no chance for re-election, he did what was natural. He changed his tune and considered as well what could be done at the national level.
The op-ed that Romney published in USA Today should be read in context. In the midst of the debate going on in the summer of 2009, the Democrats were at odds with one another. Many wanted a single-payer system – socialized medicine tout court, of the sort that Hillary Clinton proposed in the early 1990s. In July, 2009, Romney presented Romneycare, instead, as a model to be followed at the national level. “This Republican is proud to be the first governor to insure all his state’s citizens,” he wrote, and he predicted that Republicans would join with the Democrats in crafting a national plan if President Obama dropped the public option (which Romney consistently opposed).
It is perfectly conceivable that, at this time, Romney still thought it preferable that there be different plans for different states. On 2 May 2009, in an op-ed in Newsweek, he advanced a six-point program:
The right answer for health care is to apply more market force, not less. Here’s how:
1. Get everyone insured. Help low-income households retain or purchase private insurance with a tax credit, voucher or coinsurance. Use the tens of billions we now give hospitals for free care to instead help people buy and keep their own private insurance. For the uninsured who can afford insurance but expect to be given free care at the hospital, require them to either pay for their own care or buy insurance; if they do neither, they would forgo the tax credit or lose a deduction. No more “free riders.” This is the basic plan I proposed in Massachusetts. It has worked: 360,000 previously uninsured citizens now have private health insurance. The total number of uninsured has been reduced by almost 75 percent. The Massachusetts plan costs the state more than expected, largely because the legislature has been unwilling to further reduce state payments to hospitals for free care. The costs should be brought in line by eliminating these payments, by requiring sustainable copremiums and by removing coverage mandates (for example, every policy is now required to include unlimited in vitro fertilization procedures).
2. Make health insurance affordable and portable. Eliminate the tax discrimination against consumers who purchase insurance on their own. This, plus getting everyone insured, will sharply lower insurance costs (in Massachusetts, the premium for a single male has declined by almost 50 percent). The result: Americans wouldn’t have to worry that their insurance would be unaffordable or canceled if they changed or lost a job.
3. Give people an incentive to care how expensive and how good their health-care treatment will be. Learn from the French and Swiss experience with coinsurance, where the insured pays a given percent of the entire bill, up to some upper limit. Unlike a deductible, where there is no cost to the insured once a threshold has been reached, coinsurance means that the insured continues to care about cost.
4. Provide citizens with information about the cost and quality of providers and the effectiveness of alternative treatments. This transparency, when it’s combined with a meaningful personal financial incentive, will help health care work more like a consumer market.
5.Reform Medicare and Medicaid, likewise applying market principles to lower cost and improve patient care.
6. Center reforms at the state level. Open the door to state plans designed to meet the various needs of their citizens. Before imposing a one-size-fits-all federal program, let the states serve as “the laboratories of democracy.”
Note, however, that Romney did not say that a national program would be unconstitutional. Nor did he reject in principle what he called “a one-size-fits-all federal program.” The operative word in the last of the paragraphs quoted is before. The states were to serve in the manner recommended long ago by Wisconsin progressive Robert M. LaFollete as “laboratories for democracy.” The point that Romney made in May, 2009 was that it would not be the best idea for the federal government to adopt such a program until after the experiment has been made in a variety of states. In July, however, in the midst of the great debate, he was willing to jettison these concerns and settle for something along the lines of Obamacare (which does not have a public option).
It is with all of this in mind that we should read what Romney wrote in the hardback version of his campaign book No Apology, which was submitted to the publisher well before the passage of Obamacare and came out in March, 2010: “From now on, no one in Massachusetts has to worry about losing his or her health insurance if there is a job change or a loss in income; everyone is insured and pays only what he or she can afford…. We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country….”
If Romney dropped that last sentence from the paperback edition of the same book, which came out in February 2011, it was only because he had finally recognized the depth of hostility in the country to the individual mandate.
Beforehand, however – when the House of Representatives reluctantly adopted the Senate version of Obamacare after the election of Scott Brown to the Senate seat once held by Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts – Romney applauded the “incentive” for purchasing health insurance embedded in Obamacare – which is to say, he applauded the individual mandate and the fine for failing to comply with it – and he criticized other aspects of the bill, vaguely mentioning federalism and the Tenth Amendment and saying that he would hope to “repeal the bad and keep the good.”
It was not clear what Romney had in mind – for the very thing that he singled out as “good” (the individual mandate) was the element in Obamacare that most of its opponents regarded as unconstitutional. At about that time, a blogger named Kavon Nikrad, who was puzzled about this matter, approached Romney at a book-signing and posed a question:
“You have stated your intention to spearhead the effort to repeal the ‘worst aspects’ of Obamacare, does this include the repeal of the individual mandate and pre-existing exclusion?”
The Governor’s answer:
Gov. Romney went on to explain that he does not wish to repeal these aspects because of the deleterious effect it would have on those with pre-existing conditions in obtaining health insurance.
To this day, it is not clear what in Obamacare makes Mitt Romney think that it is unconstitutional. Developments that he did not anticipate or even recognize as significant when they took place – the emergence of the Tea-Party movement and the pronounced hostility of the American public to Obamacare – appear to have caused a candidate who preferred experiments on the state level but had no principled opposition to the individual mandate as it existed on the national level within Obamacare to take shelter behind vague references to the Tenth Amendment.
There is one additional sign that the fierce, firm opposition to Obamacare so frequently expressed in recent months by Romney is purely tactical and that, if he were free to act as he wishes, he would not repeal the bill but tweak it in modest ways and retain the individual mandate. Back in January, Norm Coleman, former Senator from Minnesota, who is a supporter and advisor of Romney said to be in line for a cabinet post and who on occasion serves as a surrogate for the candidate, predicted that Obamacare would not be repealed but that it would be revised in various ways. When this caused an uproar, the Romney campaign distanced itself from Coleman’s remarks, and the latter backed off and said that he had been talking out of school.
Given the extraordinary discipline displayed by the Romney campaign and everyone associated with it, I doubt very much that Coleman acted entirely on his own. It is a common practice in American politics for a major player to have an underling float an idea that he would like to pursue to see whether it draws fire or not. If it is welcomed, he can embrace it. If not, he can deny complicity – which is, in effect, what Romney did.
None of this proves that – if Romney is the Republican nominee and is elected President – he will immediately ditch us and embrace Obamacare. On this question, in response to developments, he has painted himself into a corner; and, if he has his wits about him, he will recognize that he has to make good on his promise.
I would not be dumbfounded, however, were he to back gently away from his pledge when the primary season is over. Conventional wisdom holds that Republicans must run to the right in the primaries, then tack to the center thereafter, and in my lifetime I have never seen a Republican aspirant as devoted to conventional wisdom as is Mitt Romney. Moreover, if the Supreme Court were to rule Obamacare constitutional, he might be doubly tempted to alter his stance. In Massachusetts, when the state Supreme Court ruled that it was contrary to the Constitution of Massachusetts for marriage to be restricted to heterosexuals, Romney deferred to the judgment of the court with regard to the constitutional question. To date, he has grounded his call for a repeal of Obamacare solely on the charge that it is unconstitutional. On what grounds would he oppose it if the Supreme Court ruled against his constitutional claim?
In any case, what we can conclude is that, insofar as he regards Romneycare as his signature achievement, Mitt Romney will be half-hearted in his quest for Obamacare’s repeal. And later, if the fury that engendered the Tea Party dissipates and he senses that he has a free hand, he will have a relapse. In the last debate, the one held in Arizona, when Rick Santorum pressed Romney to explain what difference between Romneycare and Obamacare was sufficiently salient to justify his support for the former and his opposition to the latter, he fell back on the question of cost. At that moment, we saw the real Romney. He is Mr. Fix-It. That is what he did at Bain Capital, and that is what he hopes to do if he becomes President. When it comes to practical politics, efficiency is often for Mitt Romney the end-all and be-all.
The real problem is this. Mitt Romney is a well-trained technician and not an educated man. He admitted as much in the speech he gave to CPAC on 10 February:
There are college students at this conference who are reading Burke and…
My guess is some of you got here by reading Burke and Hayek.
ROMNEY: When I was your age, you could’ve told me that they were infielders for the Detroit Tigers.
As some of you who work in think tanks or you follow the writings of some of the prominent conservative writers currently and in the past, some of you have probably worked in government or you labored on the front lines of conservative causes. I salute to all of you in achieving your vision of conservatism.
My path to conservatism came from my family, from my faith and from my life’s work. I was raised in a home that was shaped by and rooted in conservative values. My mother’s father, my grandfather, came to America from England. As a teenager he was alone in this new country, but he risked it all for the chance at religious liberty and for economic opportunity.
You probably also heard about my dad and how proud I am of him. He as born to American parents who were living in Mexico, and then when he was 5 they moved back to the U.S. His dad as a contractor, but he went bust more than once. My dad grew up poor; never had the chance to finish his college degree.
But he believed in the country where the circumstances of one’s birth were not a barrier to life’s achievement. And so with hard work he became the head of a car company. And then he became governor of the great state of Michigan.
The values that allowed my parents to achieve their dreams are the same values they instilled in my siblings and me. Those aren’t values I just talk about, they’re values that I live every day.
ROMNEY: My 42-year marriage to my wife Ann, the life we’ve built with our five sons…
… the faith that’s part of our life: These conservative constants have shaped my life.
And then there’s business. In business, if you’re not fiscally conservative, you’re bankrupt.
I mean, I spent 25 years balancing budgets, eliminating waste; and, by the way, keeping as far away from government as humanly possible. I did…
… I did some of the very things conservatism is designed for. I started new businesses and turned around broken ones. And I’m not ashamed to say that I was successful in doing it.
There is something endearing about this account of Romney’s life history. He has been by all accounts a fine father and a fine husband, and he did no end of good in turning failing businesses around in his years at Bain Capital. Moreover, there can be no doubt that he, like Michael Bloomberg in the city of New York, is fiscally sane. Romney possesses all of the bourgeois virtues, and they really do deserve honor and respect. If elected, he will defend this country against its enemies, I have no doubt, and he will lead us back from the edge of the abyss into which we now stare.
But there is something missing as well. There is no indication Mitt Romney has ever read, much less ruminated on Hayek or Burke, Jefferson or Madison, Hamilton or Lincoln – not to mention Alexis de Tocqueville. There is no indication that he has given thought to the trajectory that this country has been on for the last hundred years. There is no indication that he has pondered where it will all end if we do not reverse course and begin to gradually dismantle the administrative entitlements state. It is worth keeping in mind that the father that Mitt Romney so admires resolutely refused, when he was Governor of Michigan, to support Barry Goldwater, the nominee of the Republican Party, in the Presidential race in 1964.
Mitt Romney knows next to nothing about the principles underpinning American government, and it has never crossed his mind that we cannot sustain political and personal liberty in the United States if we embrace the economic bill of rights proposed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1944 and blur the distinction between public revenues that our elected representatives can rightly spend within the limits specified by the Constitution pretty much as they see fit, on the one hand, and the property that remains our own, on the other. In politics, the prospective Republican nominee operates on the same set of premises as Barack Obama. Both men presume that the property we hold is really public property – to be spent as the legislative power directs. Both take it for granted that it is the job of government to guarantee healthcare to everyone. Both are perfectly happy to take from the industrious and rational to support the greedy and improvident. If they disagree, it is only about the most efficient way to deliver the goods.
In 2002, while campaigning in Massachusetts, Romney said, “My views are progressive.” That they are – to this very day. Mitt Romney is what Thomas E. Dewey said he was – the very model of a Republican New-Dealer.
At no time in the course of the contest for the Republican nomination have I been convinced that any of the other candidates actually in the race was a viable alternative to Mitt Romney. Those who fell to the wayside did so for a reason, and Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, who are still in the race, have serious defects that cost them high office in the past, which they have not in the interim fully overcome. In my judgment, neither possesses the self-discipline required for the bruising Presidential race to come.
In November, we may have to hold our noses and vote for yet another managerial progressive – proud to be a tax collector for the welfare state. In some very important regards, Mitt Romney is likely to serve us well. But let’s hope that he is the last of his kind.
If, in the next two decades, we do not get past managerial progressivism — if we do not find a way to seize the time, take advantage of the crisis of the administrative entitlements state, and reverse this country’s soft despotic drift — it may be too late. And, before long, this country will cease to be the beacon of hope for humankind that it has been for more than two hundred years.