Decision 2012

Romney once touted mandate he now deems unconstitutional

Romney once touted mandate he now deems unconstitutional

POSTED: Thursday, June 28, 2012 - 2:00am

UPDATED: Thursday, June 28, 2012 - 2:14am

The conventional wisdom in Washington is that the Supreme Court will hand President Barack Obama some kind of defeat to his health care law that could damage his re-election chances. But what's the political prognosis for Mitt Romney?

"My guess is that they are not sleeping very well at the White House tonight," Romney quipped at an event one day before the Supreme Court's expected ruling.

The presumptive GOP nominee said if the Supreme Court opts against bringing down the law, he would do so as president.

"If I'm elected president we're going to repeal Obamacare and replace it with real reform," Romney said, though he avoided naming specific measures he would take as president to reform health care.

The president is warning voters to take Romney at his word.

"He wants to roll back the reforms that we put in place that prevent insurance companies from discriminating against people who are sick. I believe it's the right thing to do," Mr. Obama said in a speech to supporters in Miami Tuesday.

Romney went further in his criticism of the law at a fundraiser in Atlanta earlier this month. At the event, the former Massachusetts governor argued the health care law deserves to be struck down.

"Gosh I hope they do the right thing and turn this thing down," Romney told a fundraiser in Atlanta earlier this month, according to pool reports. "And say it's unconstitutional because it is."

At the heart of the conservative complaints about the president's law is its individual mandate, which forces all Americans to buy health insurance, if they can afford it, or pay a fine.

As most voters now know, the president fashioned much of his law by borrowing heavily from the reform plan signed into law by Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts six years ago. The centerpiece of the Massachusetts plan is its own mandate.

In an interview with CNN in 2009, Romney touted the mandate as a free market alternative to the president's original plan that offered Americans the option to buy into a government insurance plan. That so-called "public option" was later dropped from the law.

"I think there are a number of features in the Massachusetts plan that could inform Washington on ways to improve health care for all Americans," Romney told CNN in 2009. "The fact that we were able to get people insured without a government option is a model I think they can learn from."

Romney explained his mandate, or "incentive" as he preferred to call it in the interview, was designed to achieve universal coverage.

"No more free riders. Everybody is part of the plan. And that way, we get the costs down. We let people know that they never have to worry about losing their coverage," Romney said in the interview.

Romney has since said on numerous occasions his plan was meant for Massachusetts only.

"Our plan was a state solution to a state problem, and his plan is a power grab by the federal government to put a one-size-fits-all plan across the nation," Romney said in a speech in the weeks before he jumped into the race last year.

This time around, he spent much of the primaries fighting off attacks from Rick Santorum and other rivals who complained Romney indeed supported a national mandate.

In March, Santorum stood on the steps of the Supreme Court to blast Romney as the "worst candidate" to take on the president on health care.

"There is one candidate who is uniquely disqualified. That's why I'm here and he's not," Santorum said.

The Democratic National Committee ran a web video in March featuring Romney's apparent defense of a national mandate that he made in a debate during his 2008 run for the presidency.

"No, no I like mandates," Romney said during the debate.

If the president's law is struck down, Romney has promised to bring back some of its protections for consumers.

"Fixing our health care system means making sure that every American, regardless of their health care needs, can find quality, affordable coverage," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement.

"That is why Governor Romney supports reforms to protect those with pre-existing conditions from being denied access to a health plan while they have continuous coverage," she added.

What's unknown is how a partial ruling against the president would affect both campaigns. A decision to uphold most of the law but strike down only the individual mandate could have unforeseen consequences.

The insurance industry has warned members of Congress of just that scenario.

"It is important to keep in mind that severing the individual mandate from market reforms in the (Affordable Care Act) could have a negative impact on individuals and families," the industry's lobby warns on its web site.

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