Romney struggles with health care details

Mitt Romney sat down today with the editorial board of the Washington Examiner, a conservative outlet, and covered quite a bit of ground. Of particular interest was Romney explaining his intention to use waivers to allow states to circumvent federal health care law.

PHILIP KLEIN: You’ve said that on day one of your presidency, you would grant Obamacare waivers to all 50 states, as you pursue full repeal. But under the language of the health care law, waivers are subject to a number of restrictions, and wouldn’t apply until the year 2017. So what immediate and specific relief would your executive order provide for individuals and businesses, assuming it’s issued on January 20, 2013?

ROMNEY: Well, I will certainly pursue repeal, and that’s something which will occur if we have a Republican House and a Republican Senate, my guess is it could be done pretty close to day one. If that’s not the case, and I have to go through the waiver process, we will do our best.

Our lawyers think that providing a state a waiver that we will be able to conform with the law and that the state would be able to opt out of the system, but if a lawsuit ensues, and it takes months to sort it out, well during that time hopefully we will have the bill repealed. […]

KLEIN: But what do your lawyers think as to why these waivers could take place, because I have the law here, and it says that it applies on January 1, 2017 – under the “waiver for state innovation.”

ROMNEY: When you say “it” — “it applies”?

KLEIN: The “waiver for state innovation” — under section 1332.

ROMNEY: The waiver for state innovation?

KLEIN: Yes, that’s the waiver that I believe that you’re talking about when you talk about state waivers. That’s what your campaign has said.

ROMNEY: Oh, they say it’s that in particular?

When told what’s actually in the law, Romney said he’d have to check with his lawyer.

That’s a pretty startling exchange. Romney has been condemning President Obama’s Affordable Care Act since before it became law, and has spent a year on the campaign trail assuring GOP voters he has a plan to undo what was done.

But all it took was one reporter who’d done his homework, and who asked a straightforward question, to make clear that Romney doesn’t really know what he’s talking about.

That’s one of the biggest problems with Romney’s purported competency. It’s easy for a casual observer to think the former governor is fairly bright — he speaks in complete sentences, seems confident in his (newfound) positions, speaks with a degree of authority, has a reasonably impressive vocabulary, etc.

The charade ends, however, when he’s pressed for more substantive details and Romney suddenly finds himself unprepared. It happens a lot, and it reinforces the sense that he’s not nearly as bright as the establishment thinks he is.