After another strong debate performance on Thursday night, Mitt Romney is now the Republican frontrunner. He has consistently been the most prepared, articulate, and presidential of the leading candidates, and he increasingly looks like the best bet from among the current field to defeat President Obama. But the upcoming election isn’t just about beating Obama, as important as that is. It’s also about electing someone who will sweep away his statist agenda before it takes root.
The other leading Republican candidates have left little doubt about the strength of their commitment to repealing the centerpiece of that agenda: Obamacare. Rick Perry says, “The first thing that the new president, and the new Congress, needs to do is abolish that — is repeal Obamacare,” which Perry calls “the greatest intrusion on individual freedom in a generation.” Michele Bachmann declares point-blank, “My number one priority is to repeal Obamacare.” And Ron Paul, who calls Obamacare “monstrous,” says, “I want to repeal the whole government” — so it seems a safe bet that he’d also be willing to push hard for the repeal of President Obama’s signature legislation.
Unfortunately, the former Massachusetts governor’s own signature legislation seems to be contributing to his reluctance to put repeal front and center. Romney, of course, spearheaded the passage of the health-care legislation commonly known as Romneycare, whose similarities to Obamacare have been regularly noted by those on both sides of the political aisle. Romney is clearly for
repeal, which puts him on the opposite side of the Obamacare canyon from Obama. But his efforts as governor of the Bay State seem to be limiting not only his willingness to prioritize repeal, but also his ability to make a persuasive case for its necessity.
Take Romney’s 59-point, 160-page economic plan. Romney summarizes his 59 policy proposals in a total of 45 separate sections (a few related proposals are combined). Of these, the section on repealing Obamacare (proposal #8) is by far the shortest, spanning just three sentences. Even this brief call for “full repeal,” however, is arguably an improvement over last year, when Romney’s “Prescription for Repeal” effort, which he ran through his political-action committee, backed those who would repeal “the worst aspects of Obamacare.”
In the first 30 pages of Romney’s economic plan, “spending” is mentioned 16 times, “tax” or “taxes” 18 times, and “regulation” or “regulations” 16 times. Repealing Obamacare would seem to be a crucial component of cutting spending, lowering taxes, and reducing the regulatory burden on Americans. Yet in those first 30 pages, the word “repeal” never appears. In the entire document, it appears just four times in connection with Obamacare.
Most telling is Romney’s list of “Day One” legislative initiatives. Seven of Romney’s 59 proposals make the cut as legislation to be proposed on Day One, but repealing Obamacare isn’t among them. Here are examples of bills that Romney prioritizes over legislation to repeal Obamacare:
• “The Open Markets Act,” which “implements the Colombia, Panama, and South Korea Free Trade Agreements”;
• “The Domestic Energy Act,” which “directs the Department of the Interior to undertake a comprehensive survey of American energy reserves in partnership with exploration companies and initiates leasing in all areas currently approved for exploration”; and
• “The Retraining Reform Act,” which “consolidates the sprawl of federal retraining programs and returns funding and responsibility for these programs to the states.”
Romney says he would ask Congress to take action on each of these proposals within 30 days. But the only thing that he says he’d do about Obamacare during that period is “Direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services and all relevant federal officials to return the maximum possible authority to the states to innovate and design health care solutions that work best for them.” This is the 50-state waiver that, during the debates, Romney has repeatedly promised to issue — so as to free the state governments, if not the individual citizens living under them, from the burdens of Obamacare.
The problem with issuing such a waiver is that it wouldn’t do a thing to wipe Obamacare off the books. Even worse, by temporarily waiving some of Obamacare’s mandates, it might well make the overhaul seem somewhat less objectionable — which is why the Obama administration has also been fond of issuing Obamacare waivers.