Democrats are jumping on Mitt Romney’s statement in Iowa Friday that he only learned to distinguish the details of Medicare and Medicaid after entering public service, arguing that it shows a callous disregard for the poor.
“One has to wonder how Mitt Romney thinks he can represent American workers, their families and seniors when his concern for the poor and the middle class comes across like an afterthought,” DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. “A clear example of this was when he admitted today that he didn’t understand the difference between entitlements such as Medicare and Medicaid until he got into government some three or four decades after they were established.”
She added that perhaps “Romney was too busy as a corporate buyout specialist laying off workers, shipping jobs overseas and bankrupting companies for his own profit to be bothered with the problems facing working Americans and their families.”
In a conference call organized by the DNC, Retired Americans Executive Director Ed Coyle said Romney’s comments “show how badly out of touch he is with 99 percent of Americans.”
At an event in Iowa today, Romney explained to the audience the differences between Medicare and Medicaid, saying “You know, I have to admit, I didn’t know the differences between all these things until I got into government. “Then I got into it and I understood that Medicaid is the health care program for the poor, by and large.”
Romney’s campaign claims that the former governor meant that he didn’t fully understand the particular details of each program until his 1994 Senate run, not that he didn’t understand the basic difference between them.
There’s a certain irony to these Democratic attacks, however, in that there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that Romney may have actually exaggerated his unfamiliarity with health care entitlements as a folksy gesture to show he wasn’t too dorky about - as he put it - “all this government stuff.” In his book he touted his time as as a health care consultant in the 1970s as an important qualification, writing that he accurately predicted the coming boom in health care inflation. In 1989, he led Bain Capital through a $311 million purchase of a hospital company that derived about half of its income from Medicare and Medicaid.
Democrats, it seems, are making the choice to paint him as aloof rather than pandering.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.