President Obama’s reelection campaign celebrated its No. 1 political foe’s signature achievement on its sixth anniversary Thursday. And from the law’s standard-bearer, Mitt Romney? Crickets.
That’s a sneak peak at how bizarre the politics of health care are shaping up in the general election, which kicked into high gear this week as Rick Santorum cleared Romney’s path to challenging Barack Obama for the presidency this November.
In 2006, as governor of Massachusetts, Romney enacted health care legislation that became the basis for President Obama’s law, complete with all the key pillars: laws prohibiting insurers from turning away customers, and an individual mandate coupled with subsidies to expand insurance coverage.
“They’re the same fucking bill,” Jonathan Gruber, an MIT professor and architect of both “Romneycare” and “Obamacare,” has said of the two laws.
For Romney, the politics are tricky: The conservative base he’s relying on despises “Obamacare,” and the candidate has vowed to repeal it as president. But Romney also can’t disown his greatest accomplishment, and has instead sought to distinguish the two largely on the basis that his is a state law and Obama’s a federal law.
That argument won’t go the distance in placating conservatives, who fear that nominating Romney neutralizes one of their biggest political advantages given the unpopularity of “Obamacare.” That’s the downside: What Republicans were hoping to make a central contrast in the 2012 election becomes a wash in an Obama vs. Romney match-up.
And Team Obama is eager to point out the two laws are essentially one in the same. The president’s reelection campaign released a 3-minute video that highlights the similarities and includes clips of Romney defending the policies that make up the two laws, including the individual mandate that’s the focal point of conservative ire.
The Romney campaign, in response, didn’t mention “Romneycare” but reiterated its federalist case against “Obamacare.”
“President Obama was wrong to impose a one-size-fits-all plan for the nation on health care,” Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul told TPM. “Obamacare is bad policy and it’s bad law. What is important is that states should be free to pursue their own solutions, and we look forward to celebrating the day Obamacare is overturned and that power is returned to the states.”
The dueling responses foreshadow a sort of political chess match where Romney works to keep the focus on “Obamacare” while Obama responds by strategically giving his opponent some credit for his signature law.
The other wildcard is the Supreme Court’s verdict on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. A ruling to strike down some or all of it would energize Romney’s message that the federal government overstepped its bounds, but a decision to uphold the law would effectively make his one trump card — the federal-state distinction — moot.
Despite Romneycare’s minimal effect in controlling costs, it has been a success by a number of indicators: Nearly everyone in the state has insurance, emergency room visits have dropped and surveys show that about two-thirds of residents favor the law.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.