Sunday, March 4, 2012

On big money wagers and the prevailing wind

We all remember the bet, right? It was a while back in the primary campaign in a GOP debate. Rival candidate Rick Perry of Texas was accusing Mitt Romney of redacting his past arguments about Massachusetts' example to the nation for healthcare insurance reform. Perry was offering that what Romney had once pointed to as an example and model for the nation he was now distancing himself from as policy. There had been the matter of some editing for emphasis between the hardcover and paperback versions of Romney's book. As was often the case with Good Old Governor Oops, Perry didn't quite have a real firm grasp of the facts. (There had indeed been some editing between the two releases but with not quite the utter reversal Perry was positing.) This was where Mitt pounced with his $10,000 bet. He knew he was right (in a very small way) he had Perry wrong with his facts (about the book anyway).

"So you wanna bet $10,000?"

Romney has been called "a master of the technicality" —and this is just one more example of how he has earned that distinction fair and square. Romney may have come off a little upper worldly bandying about that kind of dough on a dare, but he managed to beat Perry's larger point back with his bet. Romney was right about the careful rewrite of his own book. But as it turns out Perry was right about many faceted Mr. Mitt's change of face about —let's call it— Rom-Bam-na-Care.

These days the talk is of a recently unearthed relic, a 2009 USA Today editorial Romney wrote, which was of course, dutifully, roundly condemning Obama's approach to the Healthcare Insurance Reform Bill."Mr. President, What’s the Rush?" was his headline at the time. But also at that time —just as Governor Perry claimed in the subsequent debate— Romney was pointing to the very most controversial feature of 'RomneyCare' as an accomplishment the President should take as a model.

"Our experience also demonstrates that getting every citizen insured doesn't have to break the bank. First, we established incentives for those who were uninsured to buy insurance. Using tax penalties, as we did, or tax credits, as others have proposed, encourages "free riders" to take responsibility for themselves rather than pass their medical costs on to others. This doesn't cost the government a single dollar."

Excuse me, but this is the point Perry was trying to make way back when in the debate, that Romney had pointed to this particular policy of the individual mandate as a model for the country. Romney could accurately parse that he hadn't said so much in either copy of his book exactly. But mightn't it have been just little more candid of the guy to admit he had indeed done so writing an op-ed for the USA Today?

"Health care is simply too important to the economy, to employment and to America's families," Romney wrote, complaining of the "rushed" approach Congress and the administration were taking to healthcare reform back in 2009. "There's a better way. And the lessons we learned in Massachusetts could help Washington find it."

It takes a subtle mind to read what Romney wrote and not see him as advocating the Massachusetts approach as model. (More subtle than mine, I'm afraid.) And no one ever figured Rick Perry as a fellow with a subtle mind —so I have to ask, in all Solomonic fairness, cutting the baby in half —don't you think Mitt Romney owes Rick Perry at least $5K?

Ryan Grim, writing for Huffington Post, has another take on this same new old news:

The immediate reaction to Mitt Romney's 2009 USA Today op-ed on health care reform has zeroed in on his suggestion that President Barack Obama pursue an individual mandate. But that focus misses a broader problem the op-ed creates for the former Massachusetts governor.

Romney the campaigner has tried to make the most of his argument that his signature healthcare program and its approach are fine for state level policy. And that taken to the federal level he can join in in the chorus of 'Obamacare' condemnation.

But Romney's op-ed, published during the heat of the health care debate and recently unearthed by BuzzFeed, is squarely on the side of health care reform being driven by the federal government. In fact, the national plan that Romney sketched out as acceptable to conservatives closely resembles the one that Obama ultimately signed into law...

Indeed, Romney said in 2009 that Republicans would back the federal reform effort —under a few conditions.

"Republicans will join with the Democrats if the president abandons his government insurance plan, if he endeavors to craft a plan that does not burden the nation with greater debt, if he broadens his scope to reduce health costs for all Americans, and if he is willing to devote the rigorous effort, requisite time and bipartisan process that health care reform deserves," he wrote in the final paragraph of his op-ed.

The "rush" Romney complained of would turn out to be a 14 month process, where the conditions he outlined for bipartisan acceptance of the bill were ultimately met. Still he can't quite conjure the courage to defend the law. Instead he promises repeal day one of a Romney administration. Not sure how that works in terms of the constitution, but I suppose that kind of talk is fair and fine as far as political calculations go. It's just that neither people who are in agreement with what he is saying now or the people who might have bought what he was saying in 2009 should entertain the illusion that they would have in the person of Mitt Romney a president interested in leading on the issue of healthcare insurance reform. What they would have in Mitt Romney is just the guy in the picture I posted along with this piece: a guy pretending to lead and testing the wind with his finger.

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