Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) visited Capitol Hill on Tuesday to address the Congressional Health Care Caucus, a group of House Republicans interested in the issue.
The Washington visit by Barbour, the former chairman of the Republican Governors Association, happened to coincide with the five-year anniversary of the Massachusetts health care reform law that was signed into law by another potential White House contender in 2012, Mitt Romney.
Barbour’s visit also comes on the eve of his scheduled trip to New Hampshire – the key first-in-the-nation primary state that many regard as Romney’s home turf.
In the nearly hour-long session with the caucus, Barbour declined to directly criticize Romney. He did, however, say that “if Massachusetts wants [health care reform], more power to them; that’s their business.”
“We don’t want it,” Barbour said. “It would not be a good system for us, and we would not choose it in Mississippi, and frankly, we oppose the Obama administration trying to force it on us.”
Barbour also advocated for giving states greater flexibility on Medicaid and critiqued the national health care law, charging that it will vastly increase the number of Mississippians on Medicaid.
“You will find that most Republican governors, and quietly a lot of Democratic governors, disapprove greatly of this health-care reform bill because it drives up the cost of health care; because it drives up the cost of health insurance,” Barbour said. “And for us, it will increase the number of Mississippians on Medicaid by about 400,000 — which means we’ll go from 600,000 on Medicaid today, or about 620,000, to more than a million, which means that more than a third of the people in our state will be on Medicaid.”
Barbour’s visit to the group follows one last month by former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who is also inching toward a White House bid.
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Tex.), a doctor who chairs the Congressional Health Care Caucus, said in a brief interview Tuesday evening that the group has also extended invitations to a number of other potential 2012 candidates, including Romney, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty (R) and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R). Former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels (R) addressed the group last summer.
Asked whether he thought Massachusetts health care reform might be a liability for Romney in the 2012 race, Burgess responded, “You know, I’ve thought about this a lot, but what worked in Massachusetts would never work in Texas, and I think that’s the story here: States ought to be given the flexibility to work through these problems for themselves.
“Massachusetts had, they thought, a way of dealing with a problem that they had in their community, and then I think Governor Romney would be the first to tell you that when they looked at the parameters, the make-up of their uninsured, they were able to safely ignore people who were in the country without a Social Security number,” Burgess added. “Well, in Texas, that’s huge. You could no more ignore that than the man in the moon.”
Asked which potential 2012 candidate he’s leaning toward personally, Burgess pointed to Gingrich, although he noted that there are several “bright minds” among the White House hopefuls when it comes to health care.
“Newt Gingrich is kind of a pre-existing condition with me,” Burgess said. “He’s consistently been there for the conference; he’s consistently been there for me. But as Governor Barbour showed me today, we’ve got some good minds thinking about this on our side. The problem is, people are not used to Republicans talking about health care in a meaningful way. Here you’ve got several very bright individuals with very different approaches.”