Opinion: Mitt Romney the healthcare 10ther -- will Republicans buy it?

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Mitt Romney has much explaining to do about his on-the-record support for liberal causes -- affirmative action and legalized abortion, just to name two -- if he hopes to fend off any conservative insurgency on his way to facing President Obama in the 2012 general election. From that standpoint, the darkest blemish on his record will no doubt be the healthcare reform bill he signed into law in 2006 while governor of Massachusetts, a program similar to Obamacare in that it levies tax penalties on those who willfully go uninsured, among other things

So how might Romney defend his record without coming across as a shameless political opportunist? Andrew Cline, editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader, offers a hint (via Politico’s Ben Smith):

In a scheduled interview this morning, I asked Romney if Obama’s individual mandate [was] unconstitutional in ordering individuals to purchase a commodity.

‘I’m not enough of a judge,’ he said. ‘I think it’s unconstitutional on the 10th Amendment front.’


He said he could not characterize every provision of the bill as unconstitutional because Washington might well have the authority to do many things that are included in the 2,700-page bill. But taking as much control over healthcare as the bill does, particularly its mandate that individuals purchase health insurance, encroaches on powers reserved to the states, he said. As a result, the whole reform might collapse if challenged in court, and he thinks it should be challenged on 10th Amendment grounds.

Nice legal argument, if his only objective is to prove that a state governor’s power to mandate buying health insurance isn’t explicitly barred by the federal Constitution. But Romney opens himself up to all kinds of attacks from Republican governors -- say, Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty or Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal -- who could say they don’t favor any government forcing us to buy a product or service. Much of the sincere conservative opposition to healthcare reform has been grounded in fundamental disagreements over government spending, how much the private insurance market should be regulated and so on. Romney can claim no such philosophical opposition to the federal healthcare law since he championed a state bill -- now known in some quarters as Romneycare-- broadly similar to Obamacare.
When he stood to benefit, Romney espoused Obama-esque positions on the kind of red-meat issues that roil the Republican base. He can explain those views by saying he’s gotten older and wiser over the years -- as he did here-- and possibly get away with it, but he doesn’t have that luxury with healthcare reform. Whether the 10th Amendment argument will endear himself to conservative voters remains to be seen.

Click here, here and herefor more Opinion L.A. posts on the healthcare reform lawsuits.

-- Paul Thornton