The EFM Feature

A friend e-mails, from his French family-style iPad:

I think Jacoby has it right re Romney. Still haven’t heard an effective counter to his points.

If you click the link, you’ll see that my friend is referring to a Boston Globe column by Jeff Jacoby. I’d call it a new column, but it really isn’t; while it was published yesterday and it references the recent ruling in federal court against ObamaCare, the arguments in it are old. We’ve heard them before. I invite David to step up to the plate and take a swing at them too, but in the meantime, let me try afresh. I’ve listed below the main claims Mr. Jacoby makes, with my rebuttals.
1. Governor Romney is “trying to have it both ways” regarding the individual mandate (the requirement that everyone buy health insurance) and is not a credible opponent of ObamaCare because there is such a mandate in RomneyCare.
I have to admit that although I have heard this criticism countless times, I find it baseless, and I’m a bit dismayed that it has proven so hard to kill.
Let me say this as clearly as I can: The federal government is very different from the state governments.
Your state government can, and does, make you buy things. The most well-known example is car insurance. This is entirely within its powers.
I’ve heard it said that it’s different to force people to buy health insurance; the argument is that driving a car is a privilege, whereas breathing is not. Balderdash. Try not having a car where I live (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) much less in other towns I’ve visited such as Dubois and Shelocta. You may as well not breathe.
Now, perhaps it’s unwise for state governments to force people to buy health insurance. I don’t know; I am not an expert on health policy (though it does strike me that if we require hospitals to treat everyone regardless of insurance, something has to give). But the fact of the matter is, your state government has the power to make such a requirement.
Next point: The federal government has no such power. That is the crux of the Virginia lawsuit that recently did well in federal court. Governor Romney said he agreed with the ruling and that when Congress took this power upon itself anyway, it constituted a power grab.
Where’s the issue? This isn’t proof that Governor Romney is trying to have it both ways or that he’s some kind of robot. It’s proof that he is able to read and comprehend the Constitution. The state and federal governments are different. Frankly, I think the undying hubbub over this particular issue is less a reflection on Governor Romney than on the fact that our society has totally lost touch with the ideas behind our system of government and the way our Founding Fathers intended for it to work.
2. Governor Romney inaccurately claimed that the individual mandate was “the Republican approach.”
I couldn’t care less about Republicans and Democrats. But as Robert Moffit of the Heritage Foundation wrote earlier this year in the Washington Post, this actually was a (if not “the”) conservative solution until just a few years ago.
3. “RomneyCare became the model for ObamaCare.”
Again, you hear this claim bandied about constantly. But common sense shows why it merits skepticism.
Let’s first confess, though, that it’s impossible to know for sure where the Obama Administration came up with its health-care law. Jeff Jacoby doesn’t know the inner workings of those bureaucrats’ hearts and neither do I.
Having said that, it evinces remarkable political naivete not to think critically about the fact that the “proof” that ObamaCare was modeled on RomneyCare is based mainly on claims by the proponents of ObamaCare. Of course Obama Administration officials and others who have a vested interest in the success of ObamaCare claim they copied and pasted the whole thing from one of the most prominent Republican politicians in America! Why wouldn’t they? If they were able to fool a bunch of people into believing it, it’d be a political masterstroke.
And if you look beyond the predictable claims by politicians, this argument falls apart.
The main reason people say ObamaCare = RomneyCare is the individual mandate. But as I pointed out before, the state and federal governments are different and can do different things. That Congress took unto itself, at the behest of President Obama, unconstitutional powers…after the Massachusetts state legislature chose to exercise powers it actually has…is Governor Romney’s fault? If you think that, get a hold of yourself.
The next reason people say ObamaCare = RomneyCare is that both feature “exchanges” in which folks are supposed to buy insurance. But as Heritage’s Moffit pointed out in the op-ed I linked previously:

For us, the health insurance exchange is to be designed by the states. It is conceived as a market mechanism that allows individuals and families to choose among a wide range of health plans and benefit options for those best suited to their personal needs and circumstances. People would have a property right in their health policy, just like auto or homeowners’ policies, and be able to take it with them from job to job….
Under the president’s law, however, the congressionally designed exchanges are a tool imposed on the states enabling the federal government to standardize and micromanage health insurance coverage, while administering a vast and unaffordable new entitlement program. This is a vehicle for federal control of state markets, a usurpation of state authority and the suppression of meaningful patient choice. Heritage finds this crushing of state innovation and experimentation repugnant.

So, let’s boil it down. Governor Romney oversaw an experiment in Massachusetts, with the assistance of Heritage. President Obama crushed states’ ability to experiment, despite Heritage’s full-throated opposition. This means RomneyCare = ObamaCare? Sorry, but that doesn’t add up.
4. Governor Romney has not made clear whether it is his “position that coercive insurance directives are fine when they are imposed by states” (Jacoby calls this opposing ObamaCare as a matter of federalism) or a “‘power grab’ only when imposed by Congress” (Jacoby calls this a matter of liberty).
Personally, I think Governor Romney has made this crystal clear; he always says that RomneyCare was an experiment and that he thought it would work for his state, but that he would never say it should be imposed on other states (presumably those that are less left wing and in which a governor could get a better deal). This is the same line of argument Heritage’s Moffit took in 2006:

Massachusetts is a very liberal state, governed by heavy levels of regulation and control. Critics of the Massachusetts health care reform say that it doesn’t go far enough in deregulating the health system, and they oppose the near universal coverage through government mandates to buy health insurance. Regardless of their political views, the rest of America should not overlook Massachusetts’ innovations in health insurance market and financing reform. In the more conservative states, with greater opportunities to cut costly red tape, the possibilities for more far reaching free market health reform could be revolutionary.

More importantly, it’s a false distinction to say something is either a matter of federalism or of liberty. Why do we have federalism in the first place if not to protect liberty?
5. Since “medical costs and premiums [are] rising even faster in Massachusetts since health care ‘reform’’ took effect,” Governor Romney should admit he was wrong and he hasn’t.
Again, I’m not an expert on health policy (nor is that the comparative advantage of this blog) so I don’t know how to sort out the various claims and counter claims regarding what’s going on in Massachusetts.
But I do know this: ObamaCare is terrible because it constitutes a government takeover of health care. Let’s not get bogged down in the details of mandates and exchanges. The real conservative line of attack should be, things work better when the private sector is in charge and the government isn’t.
And do you know what? Governor Romney didn’t oversee an illiberal government takeover of health care. At worst (and this is if the most dire claims about what he did are true, which I don’t know if they are) he oversaw a legitimate use of state power and experiment in health policy that failed. If it failed, it failed at least in part because the people of Massachusetts elected, and then reelected, a successor to Governor Romney and a state legislature that piled on a bunch more restrictions and mandates that really do resemble ObamaCare.
Look: I support Governor Romney. But I know he is a politician, not a savior. (I’ve already got one of those and I’m not looking to put him in the White House. That’s how I got ensnared in this whole enterprise in the first place.) He may have screwed up with health care; I don’t know. And if he did screw up, he may not ever admit it. Both of those are because he’s a politician. I’ll never deny that.
But if you honestly believe he midwifed ObamaCare, you (a) don’t understand the Constitution and the difference between state and federal power, (b) you need to develop your immunity toward other politicians’ talking points, and (c) you may somehow have missed the fact that liberal Democrats didn’t need any help planning a real government takeover of health care. They’ve been plotting it for years. And if you think some businessman from Massachusetts is to blame, you’ve just taken the bait.

About Charles Mitchell

EFM's resident Yankee, Charles Mitchell, works in the non-profit arena in his native Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Charissa, live near the state capital of Harrisburg with their daughter, Adeline, and are members of a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America.

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