Has Mitt Romney taken health care off the table as an issue in the 2012 election if he wins the GOP nomination?

In an interview with the Boston Globe that was published on Monday, the former Massachusetts governor declined to criticize the law he signed in 2006 that extended health insurance to nearly everyone in the Bay State. Many of its provisions are similar to the federal law President Obama signed four years later over the objections of every Republican in Congress.

Referring to the Massachusetts provision, Romney said “it was a positive approach,” adding “I’m proud of the fact we took on a real tough problem and moved the ball forward.’’

Most of the Republican presidential candidates sharply criticized the federal health care law throughout 2009 and 2010 and would likely have highlighted those differences in a race against Obama in 2012. But Romney is defending a Massachusetts law which includes the controversial idea of requiring people to purchase health insurance. The federal law also includes this provision, which many conservatives say is unconstitutional.

Romney’s refusal to repudiate the law he signed cuts both ways in the Republican primary race: it will complicate his efforts to win the most conservative voters, but also shows he won’t flip-flop on issues as he did in 2008, which might aid him with other parts of the GOP electorate.

Romney has said he still backs repealing the federal law, arguing Obama has imposed a one-size fits all model to the health care system. But his complicated position likely means health care would not be a focus of his 2012 general election campaign if he were the GOP nominee.

The federal law likely won’t be a big feature of Obama’s general election campaign either, as polls show it has never gained majority support from the public.

Obama toda y

The president will remain behind closed doors. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney will hold a press briefing, which will likely include some discussion of the use of the so-called autopen.

With the Patriot Act due to expire last last Friday and Obama on a trip to Europe, a mechanical signature was used. The device is often used for more routine documents the president “signs,” such as letters and pictures. But it had not before been used to sign. Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) released a statement last week saying “I am very concerned about what this means for future presidential orders.”