Ann Arbor, Michigan has been known as a hub of liberal politics and activism since the 1960s. Its residents have voted for laws that sought to decriminalize marijuana and protect abortion rights. The city’s home to the University of Michigan and its history of student activism and anti-war demonstration. And as of right now, all of its city-wide elected positions are held by Democrats. This liberal tradition was preserved today when presumed Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney spoke in Ann Arbor this afternoon and defended An Act Providing Access to Affordable, Quality, Accountable Health Care, otherwise known as Massachusetts health care reform.
Of course, he demonized President Obama and characterized ‘Obamacare’ as a “power grab.” He pledged that if elected President, his first action would be to issue an executive order stoping the health care law. However when it came to explaining his own healthcare law in Massachusetts, which is very similar to our current health care law, he ran a victory lap. He went so far as to state: “Overall, am I proud of the fact that we did our best for our people and we got people insured? Absolutely.”
This is where Romney’s credibility problem begins. He paints Obama as villain for enacting a law that resembles his own plan as Governor. Is what’s good for the goose also good for the gander? There are arguments to be had that say applying a state-based model of health care reform to a national program is misguided and won’t work. This is essentially Romney’s position. However, added is the questioning of Obama’s intent. He touts his act as Governor as noble and necessary, yet Obama is deceptive and his bill was sinister plot. Conservatives are well aware of this and other discrepancies, and many have been publicly loathing the possibility of a Mitt nomination.
To Romney’s defense, health care reform wasn’t always a partisan issue. Republicans have championed health care reform in the past. In 1974, then President Nixon addressed Congress and called for comprehensive health care legislation that included an employer mandate. The Heritage Foundation, one of the loudest groups opposed to the Affordable Care Act, even helped craft Romney’s health care bill.
The Heritage Foundation in 1996:
News reports and most commentary have focused on two small but controversial provisions in the final bill: requirements that Massachusetts residents purchase health insurance and that businesses with more than 10 workers who don’t offer their employees health insurance pay a per-worker contribution to the state’s uncompensated care pool. But in focusing on those items, most reporters and commentators have missed the truly significant and transformative health system changes that the legislation would set in motion. Some commentators, by getting wrong even the most basic facts of what the legislation actually does, have offered wildly inaccurate interpretations of the bill and its likely effects. (link)
Heritage went on to specifically call the employer mandate provision ‘negligible.’
The Heritage Foundation in March of this year:
State policymakers should begin by assessing their own health insurance challenges related to insurance markets and their Medicaid programs. State lawmakers should look for ways to scale back costly regulations and mandates that drive up premiums and discourage healthy consumers from entering the market. (link)
Romney’s credibility problem is also the Republican party’s credibility problem. They’ve used his flip-flops to hide their own shift on healthcare policy. Ultimately, Romney’s predicament is a testament to insufficient political skill. Frankly, the guy isn’t good at politics. He’s reversed himself on a number of policies, while not always acknowledging his change in views. He’s changed positions on energy policy, campaign finance reform, even a woman’s right to choose (note that Romney’s health care law covers abortion, while the ‘evil’ Obamacare doesn’t).
So how did today’s speech uphold Ann Arbor’s liberal tradition? It symbolizes progress towards making comprehensive health care policy an accepted pillar of American government (if Romney remains the frontrunner). At least at the state level, Mitt Romney believed (and as of today, still believes) government has a responsibility to provide means to health care for all of its citizens. A Republican party that accepts this and nominates Mitt Romney accepts this notion by default. President Obama can beat Romney, but perhaps after such a nomination, we can finally move forward the debate to improving care and lowering costs instead of repeal.
“A lot of the pundits around the nation are saying that I should just stand up and say this whole thing was a mistake, was a boneheaded idea, and I should just admit it was a mistake and walk away from it, and I presume that a lot of folks would conclude that if I did that that it would be good for me politically.” Romney refused that advice (indeed his flaky image is a bigger liability for him than his health care support). And while Romney will go on from here and distance himself as much as possible without denouncing his decade old decision, Romney did the right thing in ’96. I’m just glad he realizes it.