Romney’s embrace of Obamacare lite is nothing new

When a campaign spokeswoman for Mitt Romney appeared to say something nice about his Massachusetts health care plan, the solution proposed by many conservatives was simple: Fire her!

But what happens when the candidate himself keeps saying nice things about the Massachusetts health care law? Can we fire the candidate?

“I say we’re going to replace Obamacare,” Romney said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last weekend. “And I’m replacing it with my own plan. And even in Massachusetts when I was governor, our plan there deals with pre-existing conditions and with young people.”

This is part of a larger pattern. At the same time his spokeswoman was invoking Romneycare on national television, Romney was doing so more subtly in Des Moines.

After calling for the repeal of Obamacare, Romney said, “By the way, that doesn’t mean that health care is perfect. We’ve got to do reforms in health care and I have some experience doing that, as you know.”

Oh, we know!

Romney even praised the Massachusetts plan on Fox News.

“First of all, with regards to women’s health care, look, I’m the guy that was about to get health care for all of the women — and men — in my state,” he told Chris Wallace.

Challenged on this, Romney replied, “I am very proud of what we did, and the fact that we helped women and men and children in our state.”

Romney’s transition team would be led by Mike Leavitt, the former Utah governor and Bush HHS secretary, who has been lobbying governors to implement the Obamacare exchanges at the state level.

Noam Scheiber reported in the New Republic that Romney chief strategist Stuart Stevens landed the job in part because he didn’t think the former Massachusetts governor should disavow his health care record.

If Mitt Romney seems like he would rather tinker with Obamacare than repeal it outright as he has repeatedly promised to do, that’s because he still likes his Massachusetts health care law.

Romneycare shares many common features with Obamacare, albeit without raising the same constitutional questions. States have police powers, the federal government doesn’t.

It would be nice to leave the past in the past, because Romney has generally put himself well to the right of President Obama on health care since he started running for the White House.

But little snippets like the “Meet the Press” interview keep reminding us that we have to think of what Romney might do in the future if he is elected.

As Reason’s Peter Suderman puts it, “[H]e’s trying to say a lot without saying much at all, except that he likes things that everybody likes, and he wouldn’t do anything that anybody doesn’t.”

You can argue that whatever tinkering Romney has in mind is better than Obamacare. You can argue, as some have, that Massachusetts liberals made even Romney’s state-level health care reforms worse than they otherwise would have been.

What you can’t argue with is that Romney is comfortable with health care policy ideas conservatives increasingly reject, some of which helped form the basis of Obamacare.

At this point, opponents of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act don’t have many options.

The Supreme Court upheld the controversial federal health care law, with Republican-appointed Chief Justice John Roberts providing the swing vote.

Soon many of the subsidies will begin to kick in, helping to entrench Obamacare as a middle-class entitlement. Once in effect, such entitlements are difficult — though not impossible — to repeal.

The window of opportunity for Republicans to roll back Obamacare remains open. But who knows when it will close?

Tinkering may soon be the GOP’s only option unless they win key races in November and heed the conservative base’s demands to go further.

Electing a Republican president — along with a Republican-controlled House and Senate — is a prerequisite for repealing Obamacare.

But that by itself won’t be sufficient. Grassroots conservatives will still have to make sure the job gets done.

W. James Antle III is the editor of The Daily Caller News Foundation. Follow him on Twitter.