Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney plans to give a speech tomorrow outlining his plan to "repeal and replace" the national health care law as a way to grapple with the issue that's the largest liability of his presidential campaign. Romney has previewed his speech in a USA Today op-ed. But no matter how many speeches Romney makes, it won't change the fact that the one chance he had as an office holder, he enacted a big government health care proposal that was the foreruner to ObamaCare. And it won't change the numerous statements he's made over the years.
While Romney has insisted he supports a state-based approach, the blog Blue Mass Group noted earlier today that in 1994, Romney said he would have supported a proposal by then-Sen. John Chaffee that included a national individual mandate. Greg Sargent notes a 2007 appearance on "Meet the Press" in which Romney said he thought each state should decide on its own, but he said if they made the best choices, we'd end up with "a nation that’s taken a mandate approach." Jonathan Cohn, a liberal health care journalist who is a big defender of RomneyCare from the left, has more. But I thought it was worth noting yet another instance in which Romney gave a robust defense of mandates, while providing mixed signals on the federal mandate.
Here's an exchange he had with Charlie Gibson and Fred Thompson during ABC's January 2008 Republican presidential debate (transcript):
GIBSON: But Government Romney's system has mandates in Massachusetts, although you backed away from mandates on a national basis.
ROMNEY: No, no, I like mandates. The mandates work.
THOMPSON: I beg your pardon? I didn't know you were going to admit that. You like mandates.
Then after some back and forth, Romney explains his suport for the mandate:
ROMNEY: Here's my view: If somebody -- if somebody can afford insurance and decides not to buy it, and then they get sick, they ought to pay their own way, as opposed to expect the government to pay their way.
ROMNEY: And that's an American principle. That's a principle of personal responsibility.
So, I said this: If you can afford to buy insurance, then buy it. You don't have to, if you don't want to buy it, but then you got to put enough money aside that you can pay your own way, because what we're not going to do is say, as we saw more and more people...
GIBSON: Governor, (inaudible) you imposed tax penalties in Massachusetts (inaudible).
ROMNEY: Yes, we said, look, if people can afford to buy it, either buy the insurance or pay your own way; don't be free-riders and pass on the cost to your health care to everybody else, because right now...
Of course, that's precisely the liberal argument for the mandate. Later in the exchange:
GIBSON: Let me just -- one point. Yes or no, in your national plan, would you mandate people to get insurance?
ROMNEY: I think my plan is a good plan that should be adopted by other states. I wouldn't tell every state...
GIBSON: In your plan, would you mandate...
ROMNEY: I would not mandate at the federal level that every state do what we do. But what I would say at the federal level is, "We'll keep giving you these special payments we make if you adopt plans that get everybody insured." I want to get everybody insured.
If, along with many other conservatives, you believe that the individual mandate is a violation of personal liberty, then I'm not sure how Romney's position provides much comfort. True, it's good that even though he said he would have voted for a bill that included a national individual mandate in 1994, that in 2008 he didn't endorse violating personal liberty at the national level. However, even in 2008, he defended violating personal liberty at the state level and said ideally every other state would violate personal liberty in the same manner.
It's also important to note that the mandate is merely one feature that RomneyCare shares with ObamaCare. They both increase coverage by expanding Medicaid, and providing individuals government subsidies to purchase government-designed insurance policies on government-run exchanges.