We’re all positively breathless with anticipation over what Mitt Romney might have to say about health care tomorrow in Michigan. He’s tried so many times to explain how President Obama’s health care law is TOTALLY different from the one he signed in Massachusetts, even though it isn’t, that we’ve lost count of them. One tack he’s tried has been to claim that the individual mandate (which forces pretty much everyone to buy insurance) that he signed is OK, because it’s enforced by the state government. But having the federal government do it, well now, that’s a whole different kettle of fish.
Problem is, back in 1994 when he was running for Senate, Romney said he would support a federal individual health care mandate. Yes, yes, he did.
See, in 1993, then-Senator John Chafee, a Republican from Rhode Island, floated a health care bill that was supposed to be an alternative to the Clinton administration’s proposal. It never really went anywhere, but it did garner 20 co-sponsors in the Senate, including a couple of Democrats (Boren of OK and Kerrey of NE). And a key feature of that bill was that, if it passed, the bad ol’ federal government would have required every American (with the usual hardship etc. exceptions) to purchase health insurance.
Subtitle F: Universal Coverage – Requires each citizen or lawful permanent resident to be covered under a qualified health plan or equivalent health care program by January 1, 2005.
Pretty straightforward, right? And yes, at least according to Kaiser Health News, this provision of Chafee’s bill was indistinguishable from President Obama’s plan.
OK, so what does all of this have to do with Mitt Romney? A lot, as it turns out. Romney, as you will recall, ran for Senate against Ted Kennedy in 1994, and he said a lot of things back then that he probably now wishes he hadn’t said. Here’s one of them, from an interview Romney gave to The New Republic’s John Judis, published in TNR’s November 7, 1994 issue.
He told me he would have backed Chafee’s health care bill. ”I’m willing to vote for things that I am not wild with,” he said.
It’s really pretty open and shut, isn’t it? Chafee proposed a health care bill in 1993, a key feature of which was that it required everyone to buy insurance. Romney said that he would have voted for it if he’d had the chance. So there you go. (By the way, Romney said in the same interview that he wouldn’t back Newt Gingrich’s then-popular “Contract with America.” That should make for some good debate fodder. Click the thumbnail image on the right to see the key paragraph from the interview.)
This shouldn’t actually be very surprising when you remember that an individual mandate was a key feature of conservative proposals for health care reform for many years. It’s only recently that they decided it was all unconstitutional and stuff.
Anyway, all of this is to say that if Mitt Romney tells us tomorrow afternoon that he backs an individual mandate at the state level but not the federal level, or some new variant on that theme, it’s yet another in an impressive series of flip-flops. I don’t agree with Howie Carr on much, but his advice to Romney might actually be right this time, since it’s hard to think of another strategy that has any hope of going anywhere.
Here are the first three words Willard Mitt Romney needs to say in Michigan tomorrow, but never will.
“I screwed up.”