President Obama is keeping his health care law close and his enemy’s health care law closer on the campaign trail this week, embarking on a new effort to highlight similarities between the Affordable Care Act and Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts reforms.
“The guy I’m running against tried this in Massachusetts and it’s working just fine, even though he denies it,” Obama said in Ohio Friday.
It was the second time in two days Obama brought up Romney’s health care law, which the White House has long claimed as a model for the Affordable Care Act. In an interview with a local Ohio station on Thursday, Obama accused Romney of flip-flopping by attacking the White House for many of the same policies he once supported.
“One of the things that you learn as president is that what you say matters, and your principles matter,” Obama said. “And sometimes, you’ve got to fight for things that you believe in and you can’t just switch on a dime.”
Obama was digging into what has become an issue for the Romney campaign: whether the individual mandate, a feature of both the Affordable Care Act and the reform law Romney signed in Massachusetts, counts as a tax. National Republicans reacted to last week’s Supreme Court ruling upholding the law by slamming the mandate as a tax hike, but Romney adviser Eric Ferhnsrom, trying to shield Romney’s own mandate from similar criticism, said he disagreed. The resulting confusion, which included a puzzling walk back from Romney himself, is currently causing heartburn among conservatives.
“The fact that a whole bunch of Republicans in Washington suddenly said this is a tax — for six years he said it wasn’t, and now he has suddenly reversed himself,” Obama said Thursday. “So the question becomes, are you doing that because of politics? Are you abandoning a principle that you fought for, for six years, simply because you’re getting pressure for two days from Rush Limbaugh or some critics in Washington?”
One of Obama’s favorite moves during the contentious Republican primaries was to talk about how many great ideas he thought Romney had about health care back when he was in Massachusetts. At the time, his remarks were considered a transparent attempt to inflame conservative voters who were suspicious of a variety of past, moderate positions held by Romney as governor.
Now that the Supreme Court has upheld the ACA, it’s clear the Obama campaign sees value in bringing back the same tactics. After all, it’s not just the mandate that the laws have in common, its their entire structure: Both are based on pushing the uninsured into a state exchange where they can purchase subsidized coverage on the private market. That means that every time a Republican leader attacks Obama on the policy merits of the ACA, he or she can expect Romney to get a question on why he thought the same policy worked for Massachusetts.
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.