Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) argued today that the 2010 health care law would be “off the table” in the fall campaign if Mitt Romney wins the Republican presidential nomination.
Schumer, the third ranking Senate Democrat, appeared to use an afternoon news conference to distance his party from the individual mandate, among the most politically charged elements of President Barack Obama’s health care law. Schumer noted that it was an idea originally proposed by Republicans in the early 1990s to counter President Bill Clinton’s government-run health care plan, and years later it was implemented by Romney as part of the Massachusetts law he championed as governor.
“The concept of an individual mandate was first floated by the conservative Heritage Foundation; it was taken up by conservative Republicans as an alternative to the universal health bill proposed by President Clinton,” Schumer told reporters. “And of course, there is the issue of Mitt Romney, who passed Romneycare in Massachusetts, which is based on exactly the same model health care law we passed two years ago.
“If he tries to make it an issue in a debate with President Obama, it’s just going to confirm that he’s the Etch a Sketch candidate,” Schumer added. “If Mitt Romney is the nominee, in effect health care will be off the table as an issue.”
Romney has declined to disown his Massachusetts law but repeatedly vowed, if elected president, to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which this week is under review by the Supreme Court. The GOP frontrunner, who has attempted to differentiate between reforming health care at the state and federal levels, said he would issue opt-out waivers to the states on his first day in office, while pushing Congress to dump the 2010 health care law in its entirety.
According to the RealClearPolitics.com average, Americans oppose the law 49.8 percent to 38 percent. And Obama has had little to say to mark the statute’s two-year anniversary. But Schumer denied that his attempt to tie Republicans to the individual mandate — on the same day the Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments on that portion of Obama’s health care law — was an attempt to protect Democrats from political blowback.
“I’m just saying that Gov. Romney was so much involved in creating just about this exact law that his attacking [Obama] now is going to have virtually no credibility. And so I believe if Gov. Romney is the nominee, this issue will be effectively taken off the table.”
Schumer’s statement echoes almost verbatim the messaging used by former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), who is Romney’s main rival for the GOP nomination. Santorum is far behind Romney in the hunt for the required 1,144 GOP nominating delegates and is unlikely to catch him absent a fight on the floor of the convention in late August.
Santorum is attempting to turn the tide by arguing that Republicans would cede the health care issue to Obama if they select Romney as their standard bearer. Speaking to reporters Monday on the steps of the Supreme Court, Santorum said Romney is “the worst candidate to go against Barack Obama on the most important issue of the day.”
Health care might or might not be important to voters in the heat of the general election campaign. A recent CNN poll showed that voters ranked the issue a distant third (11 percent) behind the economy (53 percent) and the federal budget (20 percent) among the topics that mattered most to them. But in any event, several Republican Senators interviewed in the past couple of weeks have said they are comfortable with Romney leading their party on health care.
Republican Members who have been complimentary of Romney on this issue include Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.). Today, Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso (Wyo.) added his name to that list. Barrasso, an orthopedic surgeon, has been a leading voice for Senate Republicans in opposing Obama’s health care law.
“To me the difference is states’ rights and states making their own decisions and still believe that health care is going to be a very vital part of the discussion in this presidential election no matter who our nominee is,” Barrasso said. “I’m 100 percent comfortable with Mitt Romney making the case against Obamacare, which to me is a law that violates the Constitution.”