Romney's Health Care Dilemma

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Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Glen Johnson, politics editor at, talked about Mitt Romney's health care record in Massachusetts, how other contenders compare and how it will factor into the 2012 race.

As we wait for the rest of the potential Republican candidates to announce whether or not they'll officially run for president (Mike Huckabee's "heart said no" on Saturday), some are still articulating their views on a myriad of issues, including health care.

Mitt Romney has been accused of "flip flopping" on the issue. He helped to pass an individual mandate plan in Massachusetts while he was governor (a Democrat to boot), but has been criticized for denouncing Obama's plan, which many see as very similar.'s political editor, Glen Johnson said this may cause him some trouble on the campaign trail.

Flip flopping is bad for a campaign

Presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich has leaned a little farther left on the issue than his Republican colleagues would like, though he has a long record of supporting the notion that "we all" have a responsibility to pay for health care. He's been consistent, Glen Johnson said, and if he were to come out against it now, even to appease his Republican colleagues, it would probably be bad for his campaign.

His support has been so well documented for this concept that like Mitt Romney, it would be very hard for him to run away from it now and it would just expose him to the sort of flip flop political tacks that the Republicans used against John Kerry in the 2004 election.

Mitt Romney has straddled this issue lately and has been accused of running from his health care record. But in order to maintain the conservative nature of his potential Republican spot on the ticket, he's been talking a lot about the differences between his plan and what the national plan should be.


Romney chose the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center as his podium for a speech about health care last week. He spoke about the differences between the health care plan he passed in Massachusetts and the 2010 health care plan Obama passed last year, a plan he's against. He called the state plan just that — a "state solution to a state problem" and Obama's plan "a power grab by the government for a one size fits all plan." But many of Romney's critics say the plans look very similar. So, what would that new national plan look like?

He talked about some other ideas he had for how to roll it out across the rest of the country but it was must more vague than the concrete solution that he had devised and supported and signed into law in Massachusetts, that's for sure.

Another contender had a run-in with his past too, but he faced it head-on, Johnson said. Tim Pawlenty supported the regional greenhouse gas initiative while he was governor of Minnesota and has since straight-up apologized for that one.

He basically laid it out to the people and said, I made a mistake there, and whether or not you agree with that, he made his break from the past crystal clear for these people and didn't try and run and hide from it.

Taking the pressure off Obama

At the same time, having two Republican presidential hopefuls saying, in some form, an individual mandate health care plan is a good idea, could throw some of the criticism of Obama's plan out the window — a potentially big concern for the Republican party, according to Glen Johnson.

Here you have [Romney] in many quarters described as the front runner, even though some polls are all over the map, and yet at the same time his comments in that speech last week in Michigan were just derided by a lot of the people you would think were natural supporters. The Wall Street Journal ripped him both the day that he delivered the speech and the day afterward, and so then you get something like what he said and something like what Newt Gingrich said on Meet the Press...and you could take a video of both of those appearances...and you almost have a 30 second spot in the presidential race right there.