Mittt Romney's health care package in Mass. is falling apart.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was the hope of many self-described conservatives during the 2008 presidential race, and was the apparent frontrunner in an early 2012 presidential poll in New Hampshire last week. The question facing most conservatives these days is: Who is going to be the standard bearer for the conservative wing of the Republican Party into the 2010 elections and beyond?
The GOP has few genuine conservative voices left who are capable of credible leadership on a national level. While it's too early to start putting former GOP presidential nominee John McCain's face on a milk carton, any hope of a grass roots following for McCain is gone. McCain has become the “wrinkly white-haired guy” Paris Hilton called him during the campaign, and he was never much of a conservative anyway. On issues like freedom of speech (McCain-Feingold), immigration, and fiscal issues, McCain's record leaves a lot to be desired. Gone also is any hope of leadership from McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, who recently earned for herself the reputation as a “quitter.”
The Republican leadership in Congress is even more rudderless. Back in March and April, House and Senate GOP leaders offered an “alternative” to President Obama's unbridled spending spree, thinly disguised as a “budget” proposal. The GOP “alternative” budget looked more like a carbon copy of Obama's budget proposal than an alternative. Republican budget that traded Obama's $600 billion annual deficits forever with one for $500 billion deficits forever. The House GOP leadership must think the American people are looking for a second “Party of Borrow and Spend.” The budget didn't only call for $500 deficits forever, larger than any deficit in the history of the nation until 2008. It failed to call for cuts in any major government program. If the Republicans believe in “me too” credit card socialism, and the only difference between the GOP and the Democrats is fractional accounting, then voters will eventually choose the genuine socialist article. The congressional Republican budget is not only a dead letter in the Democrat-dominated Congress, it's a dead letter among the GOP rank-and-file in Congress. Only the leadership ever talks about it, and for good reason.
Second on the list of presidential primary vote-getters back in 2008 was Mitt Romney. Do the nation's conservatives turn it's lonely eyes to Mitt Romney? They might, but Romney had better hope those eyes don't look too closely. Or else they might see his record of tax increases and a health care disaster in the making.
While Romney ran in 2008 on a platform that claimed he hadn't raised taxes as governor of Massachusetts, the claim was based upon a simple deception: he called his tax increases “fees.” During the presidential campaign, NBC's “Meet the Press” host, the late Tim Russert, exploded Romney's claim he hadn't proposed tax increases as Massachusetts governor:
MR. RUSSERT: The AP says it this way: "When Romney wanted to balance the Massachusetts budget, the blind, mentally retarded and gun owners were asked to help pay. In all, then-Gov. Romney proposed creating 33 new fees," "increasing 57 others." The head of the Bay State Council of the Blind said that your name was "Fee-Fee"; that you just raised fee after fee after fee. That's a tax.... A fee's not a tax?
GOV. ROMNEY: A fee--well, a fee--if it were a tax, it'd be called--it'd be called a tax. But...
MR. RUSSERT: Governor, that's, that's gimmick.
GOV. ROMNEY: No, it's, it's reality. It is. But--and I have no--I'm not trying to hide from the fact we raised fees. We raised fees $240 million.
Romney argued with Russert: “But a fee is different than a tax in that it's for a particular service.” Barbara Anderson of Massachusetts' Citizens for Limited Taxation revealed that many of Romney's “fees” had nothing to do with services and everything to do with the purpose of taxes: raising revenue.
But Governor Romney is also creating a new "user fee" of $150,000 on health insurers to help pay for Medicaid -- the state healthcare service for the poor or for people who make themselves appear poor by hiding their money with their kids. To determine if this is really a "fee," or if it is, in fact, a tax; you must ask the question: What service or privilege do the health insurers get in return for their money?... the Romney administration, by putting this in the budget, has made it clear that the purpose is to raise revenues, not to compensate the state for providing some sort of service to health insurers that the rest of society isn't getting.”
Romney increased fees upon gun owners and for people who needed duplicate licenses. Neither of these are “services” that the government provides; they are simply licenses needed to comply with government-established mandates.
Romney got a mostly free ride during the presidential race on this issue, despite the fact that he falsely claimed he didn't propose tax increases in Massachusetts. Maybe he could get away with it again in another race.
What he likely won't get is a free ride on the health care legislation he sponsored as governor. The word is out that the Massachusetts system he sponsored is a failure. The Manchester Union-Leader opined on August 12 that Obama held his “town hall” meeting in New Hampshire instead of Massachusetts for good reason:
Rather than declining, insurance premiums in Massachusetts are rising much faster than the national average. The cost of family coverage is about 30 percent higher in Massachusetts than the national average. In addition, the waiting time to see a doctor has increased from 33 days to 52 days.
“Commonwealth Care, the subsidized insurance part of reform, will cost almost $900 million, about 20 percent higher than projected. To make up for the shortfall, the state ordered subsidized insurers to cut payments to service providers and is considering capping insurance premiums, excluding some residents from eligibility, and limiting coverage to "services that produce the highest value when considering both clinical effectiveness and cost." In other words, rationing.”
This is a theme that the leftist Boston Globe, which was a big fan of the Romney health care package, has has also reported on. The Globe pointed out that the Romney “universal” health care plan in Massachusetts is about to go belly-up financially without cost-controls and rationing.
The more time that passes since passage of Romney's health care package, the less conservative Romney will appear to conservatives and constitutionalists. Amazingly, Romney is still touting his Massachusetts program, even though the plan fines people with no health insurance up to $1,068 per year (and the fine will soon rise to more than $3,000 annually). The poor without insurance pay their fines as an income tax surcharge under the Massachusetts law.
Romney recently promoted his Massachusetts plan as a model for the nation in the pages of USA Today, suggesting (at odds with the facts) that “Our experience also demonstrates that getting every citizen insured doesn't have to break the bank.”
Romney explained how he created the Massachusetts “public option” in his USA Today column, which essentially means that the state subsidizes of private insurance of the poor:
First, we established incentives for those who were uninsured to buy insurance. Using tax penalties, as we did, or tax credits, as others have proposed, encourages "free riders" to take responsibility for themselves rather than pass their medical costs on to others. This doesn't cost the government a single dollar. Second, we helped pay for our new program by ending an old one — something government should do more often. The federal government sends an estimated $42 billion to hospitals that care for the poor: Use those funds instead to help the poor buy private insurance, as we did.”
It's not a “government health care” program, Romney insists, it's just a program that the government pays for and controls. Can you say “distinction without a difference”? Conservatives who have experienced the Massachusetts plan don't understand why the “conservative” Romney is backing such an unconservative plan. “This isn't understandable,” Forbes columnist Peter Robinson wrote earlier this month, “it's baffling.” But it's only baffling if one assumes Romney is a conservative.
Massachusetts' unraveling health care plan alone may be enough to sink any future presidential candidacy for Romney. Maybe it already has. Romney's presence on the national stage has disappeared from a practical point of view. He has no grass roots organization working against Obama's spending plans, and no legislative agenda he's pushing – other than taking his Massachusetts health care plan to a national level.
The true conservative path is not to look ahead to a presidential race, anyway. A free people doesn't look to the “leadership principle” or seeking a man on a white horse to ride in and save us. America's founders focused their attention upon the legislative branch, where most of the power under the Constitution is supposed to be. In every sense of political reality, the 2010 congressional elections are far more important to the conservative movement than the results of the 2012 presidential election will be.
I realize that this column is now throwing you for a loop, in the sense that it began as a search for a “leader” and is ending with the conclusion that the conservative movement doesn't need a leader. But that's the reality. The GOP has a few leaders worthy of following, such as Rep. Ron Paul, but even the sense of “following” Ron Paul is something the good doctor (Rep. Paul is an obstetrician) would disagree with. He'd say he was simply pursuing smaller government under the limits of the U.S. Constitution, as the people demand, anyway.
Are Republicans willing to embrace the leaderless constitutionalist “tea party” movement in 2010 fully and abandon the “man on a white horse” philosophy, or will they suffer another round losses in the 2010 mid-term elections? The only question is, is the Republican Party tired of losing?