It seems hard to believe now, but as recently as four or five years ago, Mitt Romney's successful health care reform initiative in Massachusetts was supposed to be his springboard to national office. It wasn't just his signature accomplishment as governor, it was a historic victory for Romney, giving him the kind of bragging rights few policymakers in either party could claim at the time.
And why not? Romney's breakthrough achievement demonstrated his ability to tackle major policy challenges and work with members of both parties to pass a sensible, mainstream legislative milestone. Of course it would be the sort of accomplishment to build a presidential campaign around.
That is, at least, until President Obama's Affordable Care Act was modeled after the Romney law, and the provisions of the ACA were deemed The Worst Policies Ever by Republicans nationwide.
Making matters considerably more complicated, as Ezra Klein noted this morning, is the fact that "Romneycare" is working quite well.
Mitt Romney has been very clear, and very confusing: His health-care reforms are working in Massachusetts, but they're not a good model for the rest of the nation. New numbers out from Massachusetts -- and from the rest of the nation -- suggest he's only half right. [...]"From 2006 to 2010, employer-sponsored health-care premiums for a family rose about 19% in Massachusetts, while they rose about 22% in the US as a whole," [Fred Bauer] writes. "Compare that to the period between 2002 and 2006, when Bay State family premiums increased 40% and US family premiums rose only 34.5%." Individual premiums have also been growing more slowly than the national average.So Romneycare is working. Across the board. But perhaps, as Romney implies, there's something that makes it unsuitable for the rest of the nation.If that's so, however, we're not seeing it yet. Romneycare's cousin, the Affordable Care Act -- or, as it's more frequently known, Obamacare -- isn't fully in place, and won't be until 2014 at the earliest. But it has passed. And since it has passed, health-care spending has been dropping.
The result is a political mess for the former governor. Romney helped create a worthwhile health care policy that's having a very positive impact, and common sense suggests he'd brag about this on the campaign trail.
But he can't, because Republicans have been conditioned to believe Romney's policy and its federal cousin are based on a Hitler-inspired assault on capitalism that will kill the elderly.
The single best and most impressive thing Romney has done in his entire adult life is, paradoxically, the one thing he's least eager to talk about. To shine a light on his achievement is to remind voters of his support for government mandates, while inadvertently making the case for the same Obama law Romney has promised to destroy, regardless of the consequences.
This wasn't an issue during Romney's 2008 campaign, because the GOP had not yet rejected the health care ideas they had traditionally supported. Now, he's stuck between a rock and hard place.