TOPICS > Politics

After Hearings, GOP Candidates Redouble Health Reform Critiques

March 29, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
As the Supreme Court decides how to rule on the health reform law following this week's hearings, Republican candidates Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney touched on the topic Thursday. Judy Woodruff, The Washington Post's Amy Gardner and The Boston Globe's Brian Mooney discuss how health care is being debated on the campaign trail.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The long wait began today until the nation’s highest court decides the future of the 2010 law that reshaped American health care.

In the meantime, the debate continues in the presidential campaign.

Two years ago this month, President Obama signed health care reform into law, his signature domestic policy achievement. Now, after three days of Supreme Court arguments, its fate is in the hands of the nine justices, and their ruling is expected this summer.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said today that, until then, nothing will change.

JAY CARNEY, White House press secretary: We’re going to keep implementing this law. And the president was pleased with the presentation and remains convinced that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For his part, Mr. Obama made no mention of health care during a morning appearance in the White House Rose Garden.

The great irony is that I think Romney, as he prepared to run for president in 2008, thought this achievement would be a great asset to him. It's turned out to be very much the opposite in his own party.Brian Mooney, The Boston Globe

But it remains a hot-button issue, and the court’s decision could have far-reaching consequences for health coverage and the president’s reelection hopes. Health care reform has also roiled the Republican race. Rick Santorum was at the Supreme Court on Monday, arguing his case that Mitt Romney is ill-suited to challenge the president on the subject.

RICK SANTORUM (R): There’s one candidate who is uniquely disqualified to make the case. It’s the reason I’m here and he’s not, the reason that I talk about Obamacare and its impact on the economy and fundamental freedoms and Mitt Romney doesn’t. It’s because he can’t, because he supported government-run health care as governor of Massachusetts.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Massachusetts plan that Romney signed into law has long been considered a political liability among many conservatives. But the former governor has forcefully defended the program, including in Michigan last May, before he officially announced his candidacy.

MITT ROMNEY (R): I also recognize that a lot of pundits around the nation are saying that I should just stand up and say, this whole thing was a mistake, that this just was a bone-headed idea, and I should just admit it, it was a mistake, and walk away from it.

And I presume that a lot of folks which conclude that, if I did that, that would be good for me politically. But there’s only one problem with that: It wouldn’t be honest.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Even so, Romney has been unsparing in his criticism of the Obama administration’s approach.

MITT ROMNEY: Obamacare substitutes government intrusiveness for the dynamics of individual responsibility, for individuals being able to pursue different options and for the dynamics of a free market.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The administration counters that the Massachusetts plan served as the blueprint for its effort.

Here is White House senior adviser David Plouffe last weekend on NBC.

DAVID PLOUFFE, senior White House adviser: Mitt Romney is the godfather of our health care plan, okay? If he’s president — remarkably, he’s running away from that past, and he’s going to say he’s going to try and throw all this away.

We’re going to have a big fight about health care again. We know we have to do this for our economy, for our deficits, for the health and safety of the American people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Obama team is also using social media sites, trying to claim for its own the Obamacare label given to the law by opponents. It’s a strategy the president previewed in Minnesota last August while on a bus tour through the Midwest.

BARACK OBAMA, president of the United States: Part of the Affordable Care Act, health care reform, also known as Obamacare — by the way, you know what? Let me tell you, I have no problem with folks saying Obama cares. I do care.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BARACK OBAMA: If the other side wants to be the folks who don’t care, that’s fine with me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For now, the health care fight goes on, with both sides waiting to see how the Supreme Court’s decision in June reshapes the debate.

For more on how the health care debate has spilled onto the campaign trail, we turn to Washington Post reporter Amy Gardner, and Brian Mooney. He’s a reporter with The Boston Globe who wrote a series about the Romney plan.

Brian — and thanks to you both for being with us.

Brian, you have written a lot about the Mitt Romney health care plan, which the Obama team and the Rick Santorum team are saying was a basis for Obamacare, for the president’s health care plan. Is that accurate?

BRIAN MOONEY, The Boston Globe: It’s accurate. It’s the template that was used in the national plan. The national plan, obviously, has a lot of elements that the Massachusetts plan did not. It’s a lot more complicated and ambitious.

But the key elements, the innovations, are basically the ones that were launched in Massachusetts back in 2006.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, how would you — what are the chief comparisons between the two?

BRIAN MOONEY: Well, the individual mandate, for one. Massachusetts is the only state to have done this.

And it’s a concept based in conservative Republican circles in the ’90s as an alternative to the Hillary Clinton health care plan. Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich, people like that supported it. That’s a key component of the federal one as well.

This idea of state-based exchanges that would provide a marketplace for commercially sold real estate — insurance policies is another key feature. So all the major features are very similar.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Brian Mooney, just remind us, where did the idea come from for the Romney health care plan in Massachusetts and how did he get it passed?

BRIAN MOONEY: Well, as you know, Massachusetts is an overwhelmingly Democratic and liberal state. Ted Kennedy was alive, you know the champion of universal health care.

There’s a culture in the state that’s very favorable towards expanding insurance. And Romney as a Republican took an unusual step and said he was going to make it a major — an issue in the second half of his term as governor. And he proposed some new ideas that Democrats hadn’t used before. It was a long process. It took about two years to get passed.

There were fights in the legislature over it, but in the end, out of 200 state legislators , only two opposed it and there was no real organized opposition to it. And so Romney gets a lot of the credit for it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Amy Gardner, you’ve been following the other Republican candidates on the trail this year. What are they saying about the Mitt Romney health care plan?

AMY GARDNER, The Washington Post: Well, it’s become the issue upon which to sort of wage the case, make the case, argue the case that Mitt Romney is not the person to litigate health care against Barack Obama in the general election.

Both Mitt — both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, as the clip a moment ago illustrated with Santorum on Capitol Hill this week, has been hammering Governor Romney on the issue day after day after day.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, meanwhile, move over to the White House, and you have been covering the Obama White House in the last few days. How concerned are they after hearing these Supreme Court arguments? What are they saying?

AMY GARDNER: Well, they’re not saying. In fact, it’s very clear that they’re executing a concerted strategy not to get in the middle of this.

And so their response is, we believe the bill — the law is constitutional, we are going to continue to move toward implementation. You heard Press Secretary Jay Carney say that today. You hear the same message out of campaign headquarters in Chicago. They’re on TV saying the exact same thing. They don’t want to get into the middle of the political discussion that the candidates are having and that we’re having on TV shows.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Aside from this — the court arguments, though, and what’s going on with the court, how much has the president been talking about health care reform in this campaign?

AMY GARDNER: Well, you know, any good campaign and candidate and, you know, elected official is thinking about what the potential outcomes are of any important issue.

So, of course they’re talking about it, and of course they’re thinking about what will happen if the Supreme Court overturns it and what will happen if the Supreme Court upholds it. We don’t know anymore than vast speculation, which I feel perfectly safe putting out there. We know that he’s very interested in the case. He’s, of course, a constitutional scholar himself who taught constitutional law in law school.

And we know that he read briefs on his way back from Korea on Tuesday on Air Force One with great interest, I’m sure. And that’s about all we know.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about — Amy Gardner, what about the president’s Democratic allies and Democrats on the Hill? How much are they sweating this out?

AMY GARDNER: It’s interesting. You do hear a little bit more candor about the concern that folks have.

I mean there’s a fairly universal view that the arguments didn’t feel like they went very well for the Democratic side this week, with the very tough questioning from the conservative justices, particularly on the individual mandate on Tuesday.

And so certainly people are starting to think much more about the possibility of the court actually overturning this. And so you hear a couple different things. You hear — you don’t hear any talk about how would we replace this law. The view is, look, we considered plans B, C, D and E back in 2009. And we didn’t go in those directions for very concerted reasons. We believed that this was the plan that worked.

The individual mandate is the cornerstone to this bill, they say, because it allows — it requires 30 million additional people to come into the market and helps pay for some of the popular provisions of the bill, like preexisting conditions and all that stuff.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Brian Mooney, back to you. And, by the way, we learned I guess today that the Supreme Court, the justices are actually going to take a vote among themselves on this, this Friday, but nobody will know what those results are until the opinions are written and they come out some time at the end of June.

But, in the meantime, what do you think we should expect to hear from Mitt Romney about all this on the campaign trail?

BRIAN MOONEY: Well, the great irony is that I think Romney, as he prepared to run for president in 2008, thought this achievement would be a great asset to him. It’s turned out to be very much the opposite in his own party.

And I think President Obama thought the national overhaul would do the same for him, and it’s proved to be not very popular. But for Romney, he’s standing on a narrow ground of federalism, which is about the only place he can stand, saying states should be doing this by themselves, not with a mandate from the federal government.

It’s a very narrow political piece of ground. And it will be interesting to see in the general election how he deals with that, if he tries to appeal to a broader audience.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, just quickly, he does — it is felt in the Romney campaign that he can talk about it?

BRIAN MOONEY: Well, he’s not leading with it. That’s for sure. As he goes for the nomination, it’s been a liability, frankly. A lot of people thought it would kill his chances, which it hasn’t — which hasn’t happened.

But some people think a Republican talking about health reform is a good thing. It’s a party that’s not been identified with that issue. But it’s a very — it’s tricky ground for him.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we’re going to leave it there.

Brian Mooney joining us in Boston, Amy Gardner here in Washington, thank you both.

AMY GARDNER: Thank you.

BRIAN MOONEY: Thank you.