Romney’s plan to gut the health care system

Mitt Romney may be the godfather of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, but that doesn’t mean he’ll leave it intact if elected. Here’s the Republican’s plan, as he described it last night.

“On day one, granting a waiver for — to all 50 states doesn’t stop in its tracks entirely ‘Obamacare.’ That’s why I also say we have to repeal ‘Obamacare,’ and I will do that on day two with a reconciliation bill, because, as you know, it was passed by reconciliation, 51 votes. We can get rid of it with 51 votes. We have to get rid of ‘Obamacare.'”

I realize Romney seems like a towering genius when sharing a stage with the rest of the Republican field, but it’s worth appreciating the fact that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

On the first point, a president can’t simply undo federal law with waivers. As Igor Volsky has explained, “The executive branch and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) don’t have the authority to grant such broad waivers. According to the law, HHS (together with the IRS) have waiver authority, but only if the states meet very specific requirements. Neither have blanket waiver authority, which would have to come from Congress.”

On the second, Romney thinks the Affordable Care Act “passed by reconciliation.” That’s wrong. The Senate passed its health-care reform plan in December 2009. The House approved an identical bill a few month later, and President Obama signed it into law in March 2010. This wasn’t the result of reconciliation — the final vote in the Senate was 60 to 39.

Now, as it turns out, Democrats made some additional reform through reconciliation, including the student-loan measure, but when Romney says the law was “passed by reconciliation,” he’s simply not telling the truth.

He is, however, pointing to a strategy Republicans are likely to use in 2013, if the party takes control of Washington again. GOP officials decried reconciliation as an outrageous abuse and offensive display, but if there’s Republican White House and a Republican Senate in 2013, it’s a safe bet the GOP will gut America’s health care system, and use every procedural tool they can think of to prevent Democrats from standing in the way.

What’s to stop a GOP-led House from using reconciliation to repeal the entirety of the law, pass a GOP-led Senate with 50 votes, and have President Romney sign it? Not much. Indeed, it’s apparently the plan the party plans to use.

It’s worth noting, though, that Romney condemned the very same tactics he now wants to exploit. As Joan McCarter put it this morning, “Romney vows to repeal the health care law he inspired with a process he opposed.”

As for President Obama, he told supporters last week, “We thought that one of the problems that we were facing in health care was that we have 30 million people uninsured; they’re now running on the idea of making sure that 30 million people don’t have health insurance.” At a separate event, he added, “They call it Obamacare. I do care, that’s right. The question is, why don’t you care? You should care, too. Some of these folks making central to their campaign pledge to make sure that 30 million people don’t have health insurance. What kind of inspiring message is that?”