For Romney, a Health Care Conundrum

BY Quinn Bowman  May 12, 2011 at 8:35 AM EDT

Mitt Romney; photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Likely 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney is set to make a speech about health care. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

The Morning Line

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has a tough assignment Thursday when he takes the stage at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to discuss health care.

The once and future Republican presidential candidate needs to begin assuaging concerns among conservatives about his support for an Obama-style individual mandate in the Bay State while simultaneously refusing to apologize for what may have been the most significant legislative accomplishment of his tenure in office.

And he has to accomplish those incongruent missions without furthering the damaging narrative from 2008 that he’s willing to morph in whatever fashion to win the Republican nomination.

It’s no easy task, but at this early stage of the game, the pressure on him to slay his personal health care dragon effectively is far less intense than it would be later down the road.

One Romney adviser told the Morning Line that the campaign thought it was important not to repeat the long waiting game it played with the so-called Mormon speech in 2007, which allowed for an incessant media drumbeat.

The adviser said Romney will make clear that he has the same position on the health care reform law as every other 2012 Republican presidential candidate: He wants to repeal and replace it.

While Romney is expected to address what he did in Massachusetts, he’s not likely to dwell on the individual mandate portion of the law that serves as the crux of the conservative angst surrounding Romney on this issue.

“It will be more future oriented,” said the adviser.

Romney is also expected to continue making the federalism argument that he’s been making for the last year when addressing the similarities between his plan and what President Obama signed into law. In the Romney worldview, states should be able to decide for themselves what kind of system works best.

“He is giving this speech now in the pre-announcement state of the campaign to clear the decks,” the Romney aide told us. “It won’t satisfy all the critics. There will still be questions for him to answer, still uncomfortable moments during the debate, but he’ll be able to pivot from defending what he did to proposing his plans for the future,” the adviser added.

As for the substance, Romney puts fort his key principles in a USA Today op-ed.

The Wall Street Journal sums up his five step plan thusly:

“He would offer state governments block grants for the federal share of Medicaid and children’s’ health programs, allowing states to tailor their own programs. He would offer individuals a choice between the current tax credits that help pay for employer-provided health insurance or a new tax credit to help purchase their own plan.

“Mr. Romney would narrow–but not abandon–provisions of the national law that ban insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. People would be allowed to purchase insurance across state lines, and small businesses would be allowed to form insurance-purchasing pools.

“And he would call for caps on medical-malpractice awards and for expanding tax-advantaged health-savings accounts.”

What’s clear is that criticism from both the left and the right has not yet diminished.

“What I think is unfortunate about Mitt Romney is that he doesn’t even know who he is. The last thing that voters want in someone who wants to represent them is someone who has no conviction,” DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” She added:

“Mitt Romney has spent a number of years twisting himself into a pretzel…trying to figure out which voters he’s in front of and decide what positions he is going to take. He was the author of legislation that was very similar, if not close to identical, to the Affordable Care Act in Massachusetts. And now he says in a speech today that he plans to give that he’s going to support repeal and replace. What he’s trying to do is repeal and erase his own record and that’s just simply not possible. It’s not right. Voters want a person of conviction in a person that is asking to lead our country.”

The conservative editorial page of the Wall Street Journal was perhaps even more damning than that.

“[T]he debate over ObamaCare and the larger entitlement state may be the central question of the 2012 election. On that question, Mr. Romney is compromised and not credible. If he does not change his message, he might as well try to knock off Joe Biden and get on the Obama ticket.”

DRAWING BATTLE LINES

A day after hosting Senate Democrats, President Obama will face a less receptive crowd Thursday when he sits down the entire Senate Republican conference to discuss the nation’s long-term deficit challenges.

The session, which will also include Vice President Joe Biden, who has been leading negotiations for the administration with a small bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers, is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. EDT at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said following Wednesday’s gathering that the president urged his fellow Democrats not to “draw a line in the sand” when it comes to negotiations over raising the debt ceiling.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has already laid down one marker, declaring Tuesday that raising taxes was “off the table,” a position reinforced later that day by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

At a town hall Wednesday in Washington that was broadcast on CBS’ “The Early Show” Thursday morning, President Obama said he was “interested in having a vigorous debate” with Republicans about the issue.

Asked by CBS’ Harry Smith what his chances were of getting Republicans to go along with a tax increase of any kind, the president suggested a compromise might include built-in spending-cut and tax-increase triggers that would take effect if spending hits a certain level.

“What we’re going to end up having to do probably is to set some targets and say those targets have to be hit,” President Obama said. “If not, automatically, some cuts and tax increases start taking place and that will give incentive for us to negotiate and figure something out.”

Speaker Boehner seemed to rule out such an approach in a speech delivered Monday in New York, calling instead for “actual cuts and program reforms, not broad deficit or debt targets that punt the tough questions to the future.”

In that speech, Rep. Boehner said Republicans would demand $2 trillion in spending cuts in order to support raising the the debt limit, a goal that would almost certainly require tackling entitlement programs such as Medicare. Most Democrats have rejected such changes as a way to address the deficit.

The federal government is set to reach its $14.3 trillion borrowing limit within the next week, but Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said he can keep the country out of default until Aug. 2 through a series of accounting maneuvers.

That gives the president and congressional leaders less than three months to broker a complicated deal, which in its early stages does not appear to be getting easier.

Be sure to tune into the NewsHour Thursday evening for Jim Lehrer’s exclusive interview with Sen. McConnell following the Republican conference meeting with President Obama.

THE BIG (MRS.) DANIELS SPEECH

One of the great mysteries in these early stages of the 2012 race for the Republican presidential nomination is whether or not Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels will take the plunge.

When that question is posed to anyone in the Daniels orbit, all eyes immediately turn to his wife, Cheri Daniels.

“Family considerations are always the most important in anything we’re weighing,” Gov. Daniels told reporters following a speech in Washington, D.C., last week.

Mrs. Daniels is widely known to shun the spotlight and is painfully aware that won’t be possible if she and her husband decide to move forward with his run for the White House.

All three major newspapers take a look at Cheri Daniels in advance of her much-anticipated speech at the Indiana Republican Party annual fund-raising dinner.

Make sure to read them all, but here’s a key excerpt from the New York Times’ Jeff Zeleny:

“While much is known about Mr. Daniels in Republican circles, where he is viewed as a fiscally focused, budget-cutting, pragmatic-thinking conservative, there is one period of his life that has remained almost entirely private — until now.

“He has been married twice — to the same wife.

“Should he run, that chapter in his life would no doubt be picked over in public and become a part of the personal narrative that springs up around any serious candidate: in this case a three-year gap in their marriage in the 1990s, when she filed for divorce, moved to California with a new husband and left Mr. Daniels to raise their four daughters, then ages 8 to 14. She later returned and remarried him.”

For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.