Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has faced criticism throughout the campaign for the similarities between the healthcare reform plan passed while he was governor of Massachusetts, and the plan crafted by President Obama and passed in Congress in 2010. Romney has batted down the comparison, arguing that his plan was a conservative solution to a problem that needed to be addressed in a liberal state, and argues that he never advocated for his plan to be adopted on a national level. Romney's opponents have questioned his record on promoting the plan nationally, attacking the former Massachusetts governor on the debate stage and citing now revised passages in his book No Apology.
Conservative commentators have now pounced on Romney after "it was revealed" late Friday that he penned a July 2009 op-ed in USA Today encouraging President Obama to adopt an individual mandate requiring Americans to buy health insurance, a provision near universally despised by Republicans on the stump over the last two years. Romney wrote in 2009 that Obama could "learn a thing or two" from his plan:
"Our experience also demonstrates that getting every citizen insured doesn’t have to break the bank. First, we established incentives for those who were uninsured to buy insurance. Using tax penalties, as we did, or tax credits, as others have proposed, encourages 'free riders' to take responsibility for themselves rather than pass their medical costs on to others. This doesn’t cost the government a single dollar. Second, we helped pay for our new program by ending an old one — something government should do more often. The federal government sends an estimated $42 billion to hospitals that care for the poor: Use those funds instead to help the poor buy private insurance, as we did."
Commentators and primary opponents slamed Romney over the weekend for the op-ed where he "urged Obama to embrace the individual mandate."
"Friends, if Mitt Romney is the nominee, we will be unable to fight Obama on an issue that 60% of Americans agree with us on," Erik Erikson wrote on Red State Friday evening. Rick Santorum, Romney's closest follower in the primary delegate count, hit the former governor for the op-ed at an event in Ohio Saturday before the state's key primary vote Tuesday.
"Governor Romney has been saying throughout the course of this campaign, 'Oh, I never recommended that they adopt my program in Massachusetts for an individual federal mandate, oh, I never did that,'" CBS reports Santorum told a crowd of about 250 people in Blue Ash. "Oh yes, he did. In a 2009 USA Today op-ed he recommended, he made suggestions to President Obama, including the individual mandate and taxing people who don't buy insurance. That is the individual mandate."
Romney's campaign has moved quickly to repsond to the criticism.
“Rick Santorum has a habit of making distortions, exaggerations and falsehoods about Mitt Romney’s record,” Romney’s spokesperson Andrea Saul told TPM. “Governor Romney has never advocated for a federal individual mandate. He believes in the Tenth Amendment and, as a result, has always said that states should be free to come up with their own health care reforms.”
Andrew C. McCarthy of The National Review argues that the op-ed still forwards the biggest question conservatives have about Romney: can he really make the case against Obama on health care.
"This seems very significant. A number of us have expressed concerns that Romney cannot effectively confront Obama on Obamacare, the wrongheadedness and unpopularity of which make it the Republicans’ most crucial issue in the campaign. In response, Romney posits that he is a Tenth Amendment guy who saw what he was doing as right for his state, and perhaps other states, but certainly not a national model to be adopted at the federal level. For what it’s worth, I’ve contended that those claims are utterly unpersuasive (some are downright frivolous). But that hardly matters now. The op-ed demonstrates that Mitt regarded Romneycare precisely as a model the federal government ought to adopt, and that the 'tax penalties' by which Massachusetts’s individual mandate are enforced were a good fit for Congress and the Obama administration to impose by federal law."
A Gallup survey published last week found that Americans overwhelmingly believe that the “individual mandate" within the President's health care plan is unconstitutional, by a margin of 72% to 20%.