Romney's 2012 Health Reform Problem

Conservatives don't really think Romneycare is, you know, conservative.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Mitt Romney told Fox News Sunday this past weekend that the healthcare overhaul he presided over in Massachusetts was the "ultimate conservative plan" which has little to nothing in common with the villainously liberal Obamacare plan inching through the Congress. Of course as the Huffington Post's Sam Stein points out, the Romney and Obama plans have several things in common, like insurance mandates, minimum standards, and subsidies for people who can't afford coverage. The key differences, according to Romney, are that his plan lacks price controls, and that Obama's plan is federal, rather than state based.

Anyway, as Greg Sargent reports, the actually conservative Club for Growth isn't buying Romney's healthcare repackaging. According to Sargent, one club official said "unequivocally" that it is "not a conservative plan," and that if Romney thinks otherwise, he's "in the wrong party."

Especially in 2012--and especially if the health overhaul passes--this is going to be a problem for Romney.

As conservative guru Grover Norquist told U.S. News editors and reporters last week, "if we're busy running against what Obama was trying to do and you passed a plan that was in many ways different but in some ways the same, in a primary the some ways the same may get blown up into a bigger piece of the pie." (Emphasis was his, presumably to denote that he understands but does not necessarily endorse the critique.)

The GOP wants to make healthcare--and its repeal--the centerpiece issue of 2010 (umm, shouldn't they focus on jobs?), but repeal is a moot issue so long as Barack Obama is in the White House. So if the Obama plan passes "repeal Obamacare" could linger as a Republican hobbyhorse for years the way repealing the New Deal was and repudiating the Panama Canal treaties was--a talking point used to rile up the base, if one that ultimately is about tilting at windmills. But that's a tough windmill to tangle with if you've got a state-run healthcare system dragging behind you.

But who knows--maybe Romney can carry it off. Just look at Scott Brown, who the right embraced as a crusader against government run healthcare when his reason for opposing national healthcare was that Bay Staters didn't need it, because they already had Romneycare.

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  • Corrected on 3/10/10: An earlier version of this blog post misstated which Fox news outlet Mitt Romney appeared on. It was Fox News Sunday.