This will not be an easy pivot. The 2006 Massachusetts law made that state the first in the country to guarantee medical coverage to nearly every one of its citizens. It was also a model — as critics of Romney on both the left and right rarely miss an opportunity to point out — for the new federal law that has become Exhibit A in the conservatives’ case against President Obama.
“Our plan was a state solution to a state problem,” Romney said in his presentation to an audience of invited guests at the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center. “[Obama’s] is a power grab by the federal government to put in place a one-size-fits-all system . . . a government takeover of health care.”
If he were president, Romney said, he would on his first day in office issue an executive order paving the wayfor states to opt out of the new federal law. In its place, he said, he would put forward a variety of measures that would give individual states more resources and flexibility to decide how to cover the uninsured, and to make the health-care market function more efficiently.
“It’s the same old plan the Republicans have been throwing out for years,” said Jonathan Gruber, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist who was a key health-care adviser to Romney when he was governor, and who later consulted with the Obama administration as it was putting together the new law. “It’s basically his effort to take health care off the table.”
There was a time, Romney noted, “when my Massachusetts health-care plan was considered, at least by me, to be an asset in my campaign.” Then he added: “I hear some laughter in the room.”
Elsewhere, the reaction has been much harsher than that. In a scathing editorial headlined “Obama’s Running Mate,” the editors of the Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial page wrote Thursday that Romney’s record on health care amounts to “a fatal flaw.”
“The debate over ObamaCare and the larger entitlement state may be the central question of the 2012 election,” the editorial said. “On that question, Mr. Romney is compromised and not credible. If he does not change his message, he might as well try to knock off Joe Biden and get on the Obama ticket.”
Romney, who has announced a presidential exploratory committee, noted that many on the right have called upon him to renounce and apologize for the Massachusetts law. “There’s only one problem with that,” he said. “It wouldn’t be honest. I did what I thought was right for the people of my state.”