Amid the political jockeying leading up to this weekend’s Republican primary in South Carolina, a funny thing has happened: The calls for repealing Obamacare have faded. During the recent Republican debate in New Hampshire, for instance, the president’s signature law was mentioned just three times.
Republicans need to refocus. No single move by the next president could revitalize the country more effectively than a repeal of President Obama’s health-care reforms.
The American people would support it. A Rasmussen survey released this month found that 54 percent of likely voters are at least somewhat in favor of repealing Obamacare.
Unfortunately, the Republican most likely to occupy the Oval Office come 2013, Mitt Romney, has the spottiest track record on the issue. Obamacare is virtually a carbon copy of the health-care reforms Romney approved as governor of Massachusetts.
Most of the folks expected to gain coverage under Obamacare – about 18 million – are simply being thrown into Medicaid, the health-insurance program for low-income Americans funded jointly by the federal and state governments. The same goes for Romneycare: Of the 442,000 Bay State residents insured since it was enacted in 2006, 80,000 are enrolled in Medicaid, and 176,000 are in a publicly subsidized plan.
Furthermore, Obamacare is set to push individual insurance premiums up 10 to 13 percent over the next four years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And thanks to Romneycare, Massachusetts residents are enjoying such insurance rate hikes before everyone else. Family health premiums in the state are the highest in the country, at nearly $14,000 per year. Economists at Stanford and Columbia found that Massachusetts’ reform law increased premiums for employer-sponsored insurance by about 6 percent.
Romney has done his best to distance himself from his handiwork. During his New Hampshire victory speech, he said of Obamacare, “I’ll repeal it.” But back in 2010, Romney told a crowd that he was more in favor of a piecemeal approach that would “repeal the bad and keep the good” in Obama’s law. Voters could be forgiven for skepticism about his commitment to a repeal.
The records of other GOP candidates are mixed as well. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has waxed eloquent about market-based health care. But back in the 1990s, he got behind the idea of a mandate to purchase insurance. A 1994 report in the Morning Call of Allentown described Santorum as preferring to “require individuals to buy health insurance rather than forcing employers to pay for employee benefits.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has made repealing Obamacare the top item in his updated “Contract with America,” and he claims to be “against any effort to impose a federal mandate.” And yet a recently unearthed newsletter from his former consulting firm praised Romneycare, saying, “We agree entirely with Governor Romney and the Massachusetts legislators. …”
Texas Rep. Ron Paul is the only candidate who has consistently opposed Obamacare, which he voted against in 2010. As Paul put it, if lawmakers don’t repeal the measure, then “the bankruptcy of this country is going to repeal it.”
The Republican nominees are saying the right things about repealing Obamacare now. But many of their past actions and statements, and their dwindling attention to the issue, do not inspire confidence. With 10 months left in the campaign, there’s still time to change that.