Romney takes his health care pitch out for a spin

ROMNEY TAKES HIS HEALTH CARE PITCH OUT FOR A SPIN…. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) knows he has a health care problem — his sole accomplishment in public office served as a blueprint for President Obama’s health care policy, considered poison in Republican politics.

But Romney’s been working on a defense, and he gave it a shot in Las Vegas yesterday.

It was billed as a foreign policy address, but it didn’t take long before the most prominent issue that could haunt Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign came up.

The first question from the audience after his 24-minute address yesterday before the Republican Jewish Coalition here was not about Israel or unrest in the Middle East. It was about Romney’s health care plan in Massachusetts.

Romney largely defended the rationale of the Massachusetts plan, but he sought to distinguish it from President Obama’s national plan by casting it as an issue of states’ rights.

“I would never do what President Obama did, which is usurp the power of states and replace it with an overreaching federal hand,” Romney said. “That’s the wrong way.”

I have no idea whether this was well received. It’s certainly possible that Romney’s pitch will prove persuasive; far-right activists can be a pretty gullible bunch.

But it’s worth appreciating how weak this argument really is. For one thing, Romney’s argument is wholly at odds with his record. As Greg Sargent explained recently, “The problem for Romney, however, is that he has explicitly suggested that Romneycare should serve as a model for efforts to reform our health system on the federal level…. The plain truth is that Romney was proud of his achievement in Massachusetts, and thought it could — and should — help influence policymaking on the federal level.”

In other words, when Romney said he’d never have taken his state-based policy to the national level, he’s asking voters to overlook the fact that he recommended his state-based policy be taken to the national level.

But that’s only part of the problem. The other angle to keep in mind here is the underlying point Romney is hoping GOP voters can live with. The problem with “Romneycare” is that it’s so eerily similar to the Affordable Care Act — one effectively served as the blueprint for the other. For those who consider the ACA to be outrageous and offensive, the federalism point is a fairly minor concern, given the larger context.

Romney’s pitch, in effect, asks Republicans to focus on one small problem rather than his larger problem. His argument boils down to, “That radical, communistic health care policy you hate so intensely? Don’t worry, I only did that at the state level.”

I’m still not sure how or why GOP primary voters would find this compelling.

On a related note, MIT professor Jonathan Gruber, who helped shape Romney’s health care law in Massachusetts, has been watching the former governor struggle politically with the issue, and has called Romney’s attempts at spin “sad.” He’s right.