The Corner

Portman: Health Care Now a ‘Defining Issue’ in the Election

Since he was a young congressman in 1996, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio has prepped each Republican presidential nominee, and many vice-presidential nominees, for debates. As he looks toward the fall, Portman expects President Obama to wield today’s Supreme Court decision as a political weapon.

But that will be to Mitt Romney’s benefit, Portman tells National Review Online. Regardless of its constitutionality, Obamacare remains a burden to businesses in Ohio and other swing states. “The underlying law is unpopular,” he says. “So if anything, this brings more attention to an unpopular law.”

Portman adds that Romney’s Massachusetts health-care program will not be a liability for the former governor during debates. “Romney’s plan focused on the uninsured,” he says. “It did not focus on the rest of the state. The president’s legislation is far broader, and it’s applicable to all of us.”

“This election is not about Massachusetts; it’s about our country, and we have two candidates at opposite ends of the spectrum,” Portman says. “If I was working for the Obama camp, I’d prefer to avoid the Massachusetts plan, since health care, the larger issue, isn’t a good one for the president.”

In the meantime, Portman, a leading vice-presidential contender and a top Romney surrogate, urges Romney to continue to talk about health care on the campaign trail. “It’s now a more defining issue in the election,” he says. “Frankly, in states like Ohio, it will be helpful. And as I’ve said many times before, Republicans should lay out an alternative.”

But what exactly should Romney say? Expect more talk about “choice and freedom,” Portman says. “He’ll continue to talk about lowering the cost of health care through frivolous-lawsuit reform, the need for more insurance competition, and the need to give individuals more say in their health care.”

“The economy and jobs, that’s still the top issue, but this health-care law is connected to that,” Portman says, citing a U.S. Chamber of Commerce study that shows that more than 70 percent of small-business owners are unhappy with the law, because of its far-reaching regulations and slew of new taxes.

On a final note, Portman may be unhappy with the decision, but he will not attack the Supreme Court as the debate moves forward. And the senator expects Romney to do the same. Republicans, he tells me, should focus on winning the political case ahead of November, not complaining about the justices.

“It’s tough to look into the mind of a justice,” Portman says. “I was surprised by the decision and those who supported it. But having said that, it seems the chief justice took the institution into consideration — making a judicial decision, not a political one, and kicking it back to the Congress and the campaign.”

“As the Court said, it’s not the Court’s job to save the citizens from the legislature,” he says. “Their job is to determine whether legislation is constitutional. That puts the law squarely back in Congress and it’s our job to end it. And to stop this government takeover of health care, we need new leadership.”


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