Happy Birthday, Romneycare! Will health care ruin Romney’s presidential bid?

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CENK UYGUR, HOST: Good evening. I‘m Cenk Uygur.

How you all doing tonight?

You know what we‘re going to do? We‘re going to start with a question tonight for the Republican Party. Now, what do you do when your most likely candidate to run against President Obama has a really, really big problem?

Now, why are we asking that today? Well, it‘s because today happens to be a very special birthday. Romneycare is five years old. Whoo-hoo. Happy birthday Romneycare!

On this date in 2006, with a beaming Ted Kennedy by his side, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney proudly signed a bill with an individual mandate guaranteeing health care to all its citizens. That night, he went on “HARDBALL” to talk up his achievement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. MITT ROMNEY ®, MASSACHUSETTS: We‘re going to see the kind of effect that this change has on our individual citizens‘ lives really very, very quickly. And there‘s not much question here, it works.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR: That was then. And remember the law gave insurance to 98 percent of people in Massachusetts, and it added only about one percent to the state budget. Now, that sounds pretty good, right?

Well, it provided a template for President Obama‘s national health care law. And that‘s the problem for Mitt Romney, who just yesterday, officially began exploring a presidential bid. And really, that‘s the problem for the whole Republican Party since he is their front-runner.

Republicans hate the president‘s health care law. Seventy-four percent say it was a bad thing. Along with the health care bill will be the big issue in the Republican primary. And it is Romney‘s Achilles heel, because he actually had a somewhat sensible plan. That is a terrible problem to have if you‘re in a Republican primary.

In recent months, Democrats have gone out of their way to praise Romney‘s plan just so they could rub it in a little bit more.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I agree with Mitt Romney, who recently said he is proud of what he accomplished on health care in Massachusetts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you appreciate the work that Mitt Romney has done with health care?

(CROSSTALK)

DAVID AXELROD, WHITE HOUSE SR. ADVISER: That work inspired our own health care bill, and he ought to be proud of it and he ought to embrace it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I think one of the best things he did was to be the co-author of our health care reform.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR: And today, Democrats in Iowa, New Hampshire and Massachusetts all staged happy birthday parties for Romney‘s law.

Now, of course, Romney himself has a very different view of his crowning achievement as governor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Some things worked, some things didn‘t, some things I‘d change. But one thing I would never do is usurp the constitutional power of states with a one-size-fits-all federal takeover.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR: That is so wonderfully weak. Romney‘s now trying to turn his health care law into the kind of states‘ rights issues that conservatives love, to which I say, come on, come on, come on, come on, come on. It‘s the worst excuse I have ever seen.

I love the president‘s plan in my state. I just think you should have a worse one in yours. That sounds desperate to me.

But Romney isn‘t the only Republican to have a change of heart when it comes to the individual mandate. In 2006, the mandate wasn‘t even a liberal idea. It was promoted by conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation.

That‘s probably why President Obama adopted it. Oh, I said it.

Shouldn‘t have said it.

All right. Now, they thought it would foster individual responsibility then. They even sent a representative to Romney‘s signing ceremony.

Now, look, you see Robert Moffitt there? I‘m one to screw up names, right, with a name like Cenk Uygur?

All right. So, he is the director of health policy at the Heritage Foundation, and he is wildly applauding the Romney law. Well, of course, that was back then, when they were in favor of the individual mandate.

Now that the political winds have shifted in the Republican Party, blowing the debate and Mitt Romney much farther to the right, well, not so much. And we applaud. I didn‘t mean to applaud.

And you have to remember why they now hate the plan that was originally theirs—because President Obama agreed with it. If Obama said he liked little puppies, the Republicans would find a reason why puppies are unacceptable. Or Romney‘s case, he‘d tell you why puppies are great in Massachusetts but might not work in other states.

Joining me now is the man called the chief architect of the Romney health care law, MIT economics professor Jonathan Gruber. He also helped the Obama administration write the Affordable Care Act. Also with us is MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe.

Great having both of you here. We appreciate you coming on tonight.

JONATHAN GRUBER, MIT ECONOMICS PROFESSOR: You bet.

UYGUR: Thank you.

Let me start with you, Professor Gruber. What do you think about Romney trying to run away from his plan these day?

GRUBER: Well, I think it‘s sad. I think this is an incredible accomplishment. He really is, in many ways, the father of health care reform, this round of health care reform in the U.S.. And I think it‘s sad for him and just a sad statement for his party that a candidate who accomplished so much can‘t actually run on his accomplishment.

UYGUR: Yes, that is kind of sad, isn‘t it? It‘s a curious place to be in.

What do you think? I mean, are they really that similar? To get to the heart of the matter here, is the Romney plan and the health care plan passed by President Obama and the Democrats pretty much the same thing, or no?

GRUBER: I would call the federal Affordable Care Act basically a more ambitious form of Romneycare in the sense the core of the acts are basically the same—the notion of making insurance markets fair, so you can‘t discriminate against the sick; making people buy health insurance so that prices can be fair; and subsidizing health insurance to make it affordable. That three-legged stool is at the core of both plans. The difference is the federal bill is much more ambitious in taking on cost control in a way which we didn‘t really do in Massachusetts.

UYGUR: That‘s interesting. So you would think that that would be better, because we need cost controls.

GRUBER: You would think.

UYGUR: You would think. OK.

Now, let‘s go to Richard Wolffe now.

Richard, how damaging is this going to be to Mitt Romney in those Republican primaries?

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it‘s already causing him problems. I mean, look at the polls where he is now. He has dropped from the sort of front-runner status to somewhere behind Donald Trump and Sarah Palin in the most recent polling I‘ve seen. So it‘s causing him problems and it gets to the heart of the authenticity challenge that he had last time, which is that he keeps changing his positions.

Now, it‘s hard to sort of blame everything on Mitt Romney. The truth is his party has changed.

Mitt Romney didn‘t take his health care plans from some socialist manual written by Saul Alinsky and Van Jones. He took his plan form what the Republicans thought was their consensus after the Clintons‘ effort in the early ‘90s.

The truth is, the Republican Party, even today, is not what it was just a decade or two ago. So his party has changed, and he is struggling to move with it. The problem is, of course, the party is exactly what he needs get through the primaries.

UYGUR: Well, you know, it‘s an interesting case of the Obama administration‘s political jujitsu working, because they adopt Romney‘s plan, and then they tell Romney, ha ha, you have our plan, and hence, your party hates your plan. Right? So I get that.

But, you know, Richard, let me press on that a little further. If Romney makes it out of the primaries—and as you just pointed out, that‘s a huge, huge “if” given this scenario—if he does make it out, then can he turn it around on the president and go, hey, listen, you are the one telling everybody that you love my plan, so why don‘t I run the country instead?

WOLFFE: Well, if you listen to his pitch in his video, it‘s about jobs. He is saying—although he says he has always been in the private sector, there was that spell being governor. I mean, he is saying that he has that economic expertise.

And to be honest, you know, there is a reason to actually tout his health care plan in New Hampshire. It‘s not far from where people are actually benefiting from a health care plan which is popular in Massachusetts.

So, he could actually take that and run with it if he wanted to embrace it. It won‘t help him elsewhere and in Republican races around the country. But he does have to go out and perform what all of those Republicans have to perform if he wins the nomination, which is a reversal.

You can play to the Republican base and it will only take you so far, because Independents want to hear something very different. That‘s what the White House is trying to talk to right now. They are trying to go for the center.

They don‘t need to worry about the base. They don‘t need to worry about a primary contest.

UYGUR: Right.

Professor Gruber, let me go back to you again on the content of this plan, because I think if you are out there watching this, you are kind of confused at this point. Wait, if it‘s Obama‘s plan and Romney‘s plan, is it a conservative plan, is it a liberal plan? What is it? I mean, does it fit into either one of those boxes?

GRUBER: Well, I think it really borrows from both. It‘s a plan I like to call incremental universalism.

What I mean by that is it borrows from the conservatives the notion of incremental, the notion of, look, we have a private system that works, let‘s build on that private system. Let‘s fix the holes is the private system.

It borrows from the left universal, the notion of, hey, let‘s get universal coverage. Let‘s fix this fundamental social flaw in our society that people are uninsured. And, so, it gets that universal coverage goal, but it does so using really pretty traditionally conservative tools of an individual mandate, which was a Republican idea, and of subsidies to private insurance, rather than just expanding public insurance.

UYGUR: Well, look, if it‘s that moderate, Romney is going to have a lot of trouble with that in the Republican primary. They are not a moderate mood, it appears.

To that point about the larger campaign, Richard, I want to show you a clip of Mitt Romney and his overall problems, his flip-flops on, in this case, abortion, and ask you about that. Let‘s watch first.

WOLFFE: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country.

I will preserve and protect a woman‘s right to choose, and am devoted and dedicated to honoring my word in that regard.

The right next step in the fight to preserve the sanctity of life is to see Roe v. Wade overturned.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR: Now, I know politicians generally have some issues with honesty, but is that beyond the bounds of reason? I mean, are the Republican primary voters going to look at that and go, oh, come on, slick Mitt?

Advertise | AdChoicesAdvertise | AdChoicesAdvertise | AdChoices.WOLFFE: Look, it‘s OK to change your mind over time, but it‘s only OK to do it on one, maybe two issues. Abortion, I think, you know, he could credibly claim that he has come to some sort of revelation on it. But on so many different subjects, it starts to stretch and strain credulity.

And his bigger problem—look, if you want to say Romney is going to be the Obama of the Republican Party this time around, Obama was always a centrist, but he could prove that he had left-of-center credentials because he took a strong position against the war in Iraq, and that carried him through the primaries. He didn‘t have to strain on any other subject.

For Romney, he has to choose what that issue is to say yes, I‘m one of you, I‘m a real conservative. He should stick to what he is talking about now, which is the economy, which is jobs, go after the president‘s economic policy, but say on all these other position, actually, I‘m a centrist, that‘s why I‘m electable around the country and I‘m your best hope of unseating this president.

UYGUR: All right. Excellent analysis.

MIT professor Jonathan Gruber and MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe, thank you both.

WOLFFE: Thanks, Cenk.

GRUBER: You‘re welcome. Good to be here.

UYGUR: All right. Have a great night, guys.

About William Brighenti

William Brighenti is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor, and Certified Business Valuation Analyst. Bill began his career in public accounting in 1979. Since then he has worked at various public accounting firms throughout Connecticut. Bill received a Master of Science in Professional Accounting degree from the University of Hartford, after attending the University of Connecticut and Central Connecticut State University for his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees. He subsequently attended Purdue University for doctoral studies in Accounting and Quantitative Methods in Business. Bill has instructed graduate and undergraduate courses in Accounting, Auditing, and other subjects at the University of Hartford, Central Connecticut State University, Hartford State Technical College, and Purdue University. He also taught GMAT and CPA Exam Review Classes at the Stanley H. Kaplan Educational Center and at Person-Wolinsky, and is certified to teach trade-related subjects at Connecticut Vocational Technical Schools. His articles on tax and accounting have been published in several professional journals throughout the country as well as on several accounting websites. William was born and raised in New Britain, Connecticut, and served on the City's Board of Finance and Taxation as well as its City Plan Commission. In addition to the blog, Accounting and Taxes Simplified, Bill writes a blog, "The Barefoot Accountant", for the Accounting Web, a Sift Media publication.
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