Mitt Romney's health-care challenge: Did he pass his own test?
In a much anticipated speech, Mitt Romney tackles head-on the central challenge to his undeclared candidacy. Can he defend his record as governor while attacking Obama on health care?
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Romney devoted the majority of his speech to his proposal for a replacement to Obama’s reform. He aims to boost competition in the insurance market, allow states more flexibility in how they expand access to health care, and make changes in the tax code that make purchasing insurance on one’s own as financially advantageous as buying it through one’s employer.
Romney said he would turn the federal-state Medicaid program for the low-income and disabled into a block-grant program, a fixed sum of federal money to the states. Romney did not address the other big federal health-care entitlement – Medicare, which provides coverage for seniors – but he said he would at a later time. He expressed appreciation for the budget plan put forth by Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Budget Committee, which also would block-grant Medicaid. But Romney added that he would do some things differently than Ryan, without elaborating.
Romney had laid out his plan to replace “ObamaCare” in an op-ed in USA Today online on Wednesday.
Refuses to back down
In his speech, Romney expressed a keen awareness of the political pressure he is under on the health-care issue, but he refused to back down. And at least one prominent supporter remained optimistic that the Massachusetts health-care reform would not prove fatal to the former governor’s campaign.
“Lots of Romney opponents argue that Massachusetts' plan sinks the Romney candidacy,” writes radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt on his website. “Take it from someone who was certain that Sen. John McCain's amnesty bill, Gang of 14 ploy, and campaign finance reform law would doom his candidacy: Voters look forward, not backward, and it is about the choice they are offered the week they are voting, not what a candidate did legislatively years earlier.”
Senator McCain of Arizona won the Republican nomination in 2008, despite some policy positions that flouted conservative orthodoxy. But that was before the rise of the tea party movement. Romney is competing in an environment markedly different from 2008. What’s true is that, when primary and caucus time arrives, Republican voters will respond to the choice they face. So far the perfect candidate has not emerged.