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Congressional Republican leaders are downplaying GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's comments that he would preserve some parts of Democrats' health care reforms, but the remarks are causing some conservatives to question whether the former Massachusetts governor is committed to fully repealing the law.
As governor, Romney signed and trumpeted health care legislation on which Democrats modeled their own proposal.
Romney said during an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday that he is interested in repealing President Barack Obama's health care law and replacing it with his own plan, but he added that there were elements he would keep.
On Monday, the House and Senate Republican whips sought to explain that there is no daylight between Romney's stance and that of the Congressional GOP. The House has voted twice to fully repeal the law and more than 30 times overall to repeal all or part of it. The Senate has voted once on full repeal, which fell short.
"The issue of pre-existing [conditions] and your children staying on [parents' insurance], those have been in Republican plans," House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Monday. "I think it's very clear that we have said we need health reform, but we think first we have to repeal Obamacare."
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said Romney's words were merely an amplification of the GOP's position of repealing the health care law and replacing it with Republican solutions that would, in some cases, accomplish some of the same goals.
"What he's talking about are a couple of the things we'd replace," Kyl said Monday off the Senate floor. "What he is talking about is exactly the view that we've had: Let's repeal Obamacare, let's replace it with policies, some of which may solve some of the same problems, but in a potentially different way."
"What Romney is saying is that there are market-based solutions to these problems as opposed to the mandated, government, top-down [policies in] Obamacare," Kyl continued.
According to the campaign, Romney's comments were in line with his previous positions.
The plan would "ensure that those with pre-existing conditions would still have access to the care they need," a Romney campaign aide said, adding that the plan will expand access to coverage by containing costs.
"Well, I'm not getting rid of all of health care reform," Romney said Sunday. "Of course, there are a number of things that I like in health care reform that I'm going to put in place. One is to make sure that those with pre-existing conditions can get coverage. Two is to assure that the marketplace allows for individuals to have policies that cover their family up to whatever age they might like."
But the comments received an at-best tepid reception elsewhere on Capitol Hill. An aide to a conservative House Member said the comments are "deeply disturbing" and have "ricocheted across conservative circles."
"They demonstrate a lack of true commitment to repealing Obamacare. The conservative ear hears, 'We would keep some parts of Obamacare in place' as, 'We won't really repeal Obamacare,'" the aide said.
The provisions Romney mentioned are mandates, the aide noted, arguing that Republicans should focus on fixing such problems without government intervention.
"Conservatives don't trust Romney on health care as far as they can throw him, given his history," a Senate GOP aide said, referring to the Massachusetts law on which Romney worked extensively with Democrats. "But this seems to be a poor choice of words rather than a change in policy."
The House aide noted that given the choice in the presidential contest, even Republican Members who take issue with Romney's comments will not publicly repudiate him, for fear of endangering his chances of winning.
GOP Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, who is facing a tough re-election challenge from Democrat John Delaney in Maryland, said he agrees that insurance companies should not drop those with pre-existing conditions from their rolls and that young people should be able to stay on their parents' insurance.
"Of course I support those two things. That doesn't mean I don't think it shouldn't be repealed and start over because [there is no sense] trying to patch up something that is so bad that in 2,000 pages all you can find to support are these two issues," he said. "Of course, I'd rather the industry does this. But if the industry doesn't do it, it should be the states who do it. Congress doing it should be a last, last resort."
Still, the comments were not well-received among conservatives. In a Monday blog post on FreedomWorks' website, Dean Clancy, the group's legislative counsel and vice president of health care policy, asked whether Romney has "gone soft on full repeal."
Most of Romney's comments square with his position to repeal and replace the law, Clancy wrote. But Clancy did hint at a suspicion about whether Romney is committed to repealing the law.
"For now, I think supporters of patient-centered care should 'trust but verify,'" he wrote. "Let's give the author of RomneyCare the benefit of the doubt - and keep a close eye on him."