Why RomneyCare doesn’t need to hurt Romney’s presidential hopes

David Weinberger Contributor
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Former Governor Mitt Romney (R–Mass.) is anticipated to be a top Republican presidential contender in 2012. However, RomneyCare seems to be an increasingly sharp thorn in his side, and could even prevent him from being the Republican nominee. As the governor gears up for campaigning he should be prepared to address the inevitable criticism of RomneyCare from the Right by articulating federalism, acknowledging his reform’s shortcomings, and supporting repeal of ObamaCare. Doing so could transform him from a grudgingly-supported candidate to a confidently-supported and formidable one.

In the firestorm following Congress’s passage of ObamaCare earlier this year, many defenders claimed that the new federal law is effectively the same as Massachusetts’ healthcare law. Specifically, ObamaCare defenders pointed to the similarities in the individual mandate.

Mr. Romney needs to make clear that, following the tradition of American federalism, RomneyCare was implemented at the state level. The important idea behind federalism is that what works in one state won’t necessarily work in another. Likewise, what doesn’t work in one state certainly won’t work at the national level.

A one-size-fits-all health care mandate at the state level, regardless of what one thinks of its merits, is vastly different than a one-size-fits-all health care mandate at the national level. In the case of the former, if individuals don’t like the mandate and are unsuccessful at opposing it through the ballot box, they have the option of leaving that state for another; in the case of the latter, if individuals don’t like the mandate and are unsuccessful at opposing it at the ballot box, they’re stuck. This is a monumentally crucial difference.

Our founders understood this difference, which is why they envisioned states as laboratories, free to run their own experiments. In Federalist 83, Alexander Hamilton encapsulates this vision. He cautions against turning state regulations and laws into federal ones:

“… it is not very probable the other States would entertain the same opinion of our institutions as we do ourselves. It is natural to suppose that they are hitherto more attached to their own, and that each would struggle for the preference. … it must be uncertain which of the States would have been taken as the model. It has been shown that many of them would be improper ones.”

In other words, states have predilections toward their own models. Choosing one at the federal level is unsuitable since each state is unique.

Governor Romney needs to articulate this vision, stressing that conversion of the statewide mandate under RomneyCare into federal law would be grossly inappropriate.

But that’s not all. He also needs to acknowledge the poor results of his legislation. Despite whatever redeeming qualities RomneyCare had before it was taken over by Democrats in the state legislature, recognizing that costs and premiums have gone up even faster after his legislation was enacted will relieve apprehensive voters who are committed to repealing the newly-implemented federal healthcare law.

Finally, Governor Romney needs to support full repeal of ObamaCare. After careful explanation of the reasons stated above, this is not hypocritical. Rather, it will drive the nail securely into the coffin of the notion that he supports a federal mandate.

If he hopes to be a top contender for the Republican nomination, he must communicate the fundamental distinction between RomneyCare at the state level and ObamaCare at the federal level, while conceding his reform didn’t contain costs, and fully supporting repeal of the current law. If he does this, Mr. Romney should gain wider support from currently justifiably concerned conservatives, and quite possibly become the Republican nominee.

David Weinberger is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C.