Who is the father of healthcare reform: Obama or Mitt Romney?

President Obama is likening his federal healthcare reform bill to the Massachusetts healthcare bill signed by former Gov. Mitt Romney. That could cause problems for Romney in 2012.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney talks to journalists about his views on healthcare reform in Washington on March 8.

The next presidential election is more than two years away, but healthcare reform is already causing problems for one presumed candidate – and it's not President Obama.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, is trying to distance himself from the state healthcare reform overhaul that he signed in 2006. The Massachusetts bill included elements such as the individual mandate – that is, requiring people to buy insurance – which is also in the federal plan and is deeply unpopular among conservatives.

Mr. Obama has emphasized the similarities between the Massachusetts healthcare bill and his new national healthcare plan, partly to appear less radical and more bipartisan himself. In doing so, he has also made problems for Mr. Romney.

“When you actually look at the [federal] bill itself, it incorporates all sorts of Republican ideas," said Obama on the "Today Show" Tuesday. "I mean, a lot of commentators have said, 'You know, this is sort of similar to the bill that Mitt Romney passed in Massachusetts.' ”

The federal law is opposed by 8 of 10 Republicans, according to a recent CBS poll.

“The healthcare debate presents big problems for Romney," says Julian Zelizer, a political scientist at Princeton University in New Jersey. It "will be a big issue for Republicans in 2012, and Romney is not well-positioned to lead the Republican charge against Obama."

Romney has worked hard to emphasize the differences between the two healthcare bills. Last week, Romney penned a letter in National Review in which he said, “America has just witnessed an unconscionable abuse of power. President Obama has betrayed his oath to the nation – rather than bringing us together, ushering in a new kind of politics.”

But Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economist who advised both Obama and Romney on health-insurance programs, told the Boston Globe that Romney’s healthcare reform effort as governor paved the way for national reform. "[Romney] is in many ways the intellectual father of national health reform," he said.

To be sure, that comment will not be on Romney's fundraising letter. “It is ironic,” says Mr. Zelizer, “that Romney’s biggest accomplishment as governor would be his biggest liability as a candidate.”

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