Last time the White House accused Mitt Romney of being ObamaCare’s godfather, the GOP presidential nominee responded with murder on his mind. “If I’m the godfather of this thing,” he said, “then it gives me the right to kill it.” Which I suspect most would agree is an unusual interpretation of what it means to be a godfather, but we’ll let that pass for the moment.
Recently, he’s addressed the godfather label in a way that comes across as a little less stabby. “I have experience in health care reform,” he said in Miami this week. “Now and then the president says I’m the grandfather of Obamacare. I don’t think he meant that as a compliment but I’ll take it.” A contradiction? A reversal? Maybe he’s just so proud of his legislative godchild/grandchild that he can’t wait to kill it?
It's more like another admission that Romney still really likes the health care plan he passed in Massachusetts, despite that plan’s role as the model for the president’s national health policy overhaul. And it's a sign, perhaps, that Romney would prefer to tweak ObamaCare than take it down.
Even though he doesn’t talk about it much, Romney’s love of his health plan has been a defining part of his campaign. As Noam Scheiber reported in The New Republic, Romney picked his top strategist, Stuart Stevens, in large part because Stevens was the only GOP campaign guru who didn’t advise him to disown the Massachusetts health care plan. Personnel is policy, and a candidate’s choice of chief strategist is a central decision in any major campaign. This tell us a lot about how he much he likes his health care plan: Romney was apparently willing to both ignore the advice of virtually every Republican political strategist and stake his campaign’s future on his abiding pride in RomneyCare.
Indeed, RomneyCare is one of the few policies that Romney has fought to defend throughout his campaign. That defense has been subtle; he doesn’t often talk about the Massachusetts system. But he’s consistently insisted on making the case for it, despite professional advice to the contrary, constant criticism from members of his own party, and a deep skepticism of the plan from the conservative base. It’s cost him a lot, in other words, and yet he’s stuck with it anyway.
Does this sound like someone deeply invested in repealing ObamaCare as president? Given the similarities between the plans and Romney’s multiple early suggestions that RomneyCare could be a model for the nation, I remain skeptical that he would make any signficant effort to repeal the law. Perhaps if it came to his desk he would sign it. But I also wouldn’t be shocked to find him working behind the scenes to postpone or even avoid repeal.
Part of his argument could be that that ObamaCare wouldn't be as bad with him in charge. Unlike Obama, he’d work closely with Republican governors and legislators to make the plan less onerous, more amenable to various GOP interests. That would be consistent with the approach taken by Romney’s transition team head, Michael Leavitt, who has spent the last few years telling states that they should set up the health insurance exchanges called for by ObamaCare — and then charging them to consult on exchange implementation once they agree. It would also be consistent with Romney’s promises to allow state-based waivers to ObamaCare until the point when, or if, a repeal bill arrives at the White House. There are serious problems with Romney’s plans to let states off the hook via the law’s waiver provision (namely that the law currently doesn’t allow state waiver plans to kick in until 2017). But I don’t doubt that a Romney administration would pursue implementation flexibly.
Indeed, a plan that relied on implementation tweaks would fit well with Romney’s general view of the Obama administration, which is not that the president’s policies were bad but that they were designed and managed poorly. And it would line up quite nicely with Romney’s recent declaration that "there are a number of things that I like about health care reform that I'm going to put in place.” I don't doubt that Romney is proud to be ObamaCare’s godfather. But I think he’d be even happier as its stepdad.