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Mitt Romney Earns GOP Health Care Truce

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum stood in front of the Supreme Court on Monday to attack his rival, Mitt Romney, as “the worst candidate” to take on President Barack Obama and his 2010 health care law, which the court is hearing challenges to this week.

Even as Rick Santorum steps up his attacks on Mitt Romney over health care, Senate Republicans are expressing confidence in the GOP presidential frontrunner and his ability to lead their party on this crucial issue come November.

Santorum, speaking Monday on the Supreme Court steps, said Romney is disqualified to lead the Republican ticket this fall because his Massachusetts health care law was the forerunner to President Barack Obama’s reform law. But Republican Senators, citing federalism and Romney’s promise to repeal “Obamacare,” insist that the former Bay State governor would be a strong voice for the GOP in the general election — even in a campaign that hinges in part on the controversy over the health care law.

“I still don’t like the plan the way it ended up in Massachusetts, but I like the fact that he tried to solve a problem,” Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said in an interview last week after meeting with Romney on Capitol Hill. “It’s very different than a federal model that you can’t change — that doesn’t give any states the right to do something different.”

“The laws are different,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) added. “The issue here is not some state’s law. The issue here is whether the federal government should have a 50-state solution for our health insurance problems. And the answer is that at least the solution the Obama administration came up with is not the right one.”

The Supreme Court is in the midst of oral arguments to determine the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s 2-year-old health care reform law. Santorum is hoping to use the renewed national focus on the legislation to blunt Romney’s apparently inexorable march toward the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. Conservatives deride the law, which is credited with the rise of the tea party and the GOP’s overwhelming success in the 2010 midterms.

Santorum has argued that the similarities of the president’s federal law and Romney’s state law — both of which include a mandate to purchase health insurance — render the frontrunner a weak candidate, particularly if the economy recovers and unemployment recedes.  Santorum has dismissed Romney’s vow to repeal the law as a position voters wouldn’t take seriously.

In fact, White House adviser David Plouffe said during interviews Sunday that Romney is the “godfather” of Obama’s health care law.

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