Tim Pawlenty Uses Health Care As A Wedge Against Mitt Romney

05/30/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

While the health care reform battle is already starting to play a big role in the upcoming 2010 elections, the way in which the battle lines are already setting the stage for 2012 is just as interesting. We've noted, in the past few days, the circuitous ways former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has attempted to reconcile his opposition to the recently-signed health care reform bill with his support for his own measure in Massachusetts. Now, via TPM, Tim Pawlenty, a potential 2012 primary opponent, has renewed his vigorous criticism of Romneycare.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a potential Republican presidential contender in 2012, said universal health care in Massachusetts is no model the nation should follow.

"The plan is dramatically propped up by federal money," he said. "Take that away and there would be dire economic consequences.

"Looking at the Massachusetts experience, it would not be one I would want for the country to follow any further.''

Now that Congress passed the health care reform law, the Massachusetts health experience could become even more a critical bellwether for Mitt Romney's second run for president, in 2012.

During an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Pawlenty didn't mention Romney by name, but he relayed how Massachusetts state Treasurer Tim Cahill warned that a national version of the Massachusets law could bankrupt the country in four years.

That's from an interview with Kevin Landrigan of the Nashua Telegraph in New Hampshire. New Hampshire, get it? The presidential race is on! It's never not on!

Still, this isn't a new pose for Pawlenty -- he's been bundling his criticism of President Obama's health care reform plan with a backhanded attack on Romney since last summer. Back in August, Chris Cillizza noted that this game was afoot:

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has rapidly moved to become a leading voice within the Republican party on health care and, in the process, has taken a series of shots at former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's handling of the issue in Massachusetts.

In a July 27 letter to the Minnesota Congressional delegation, Pawlenty compared the current federal plan being considered to the legislation passed in Massachusetts, noting: "That state's experience should caution Congress against this approach."

Pawlenty added that while the Massachusetts plan has helped reduce the number of uninsured, "costs have been significantly higher than expected."

Tpaw reprised that argument in a Washington Post op-ed Monday morning, offering a litany of his own accomplishment in Minnesota on health-care before bashing the Massachusetts program as having "increased taxes and fees." (Side note: Pawlenty's Post op-ed should put to rest any doubt about whether he will run for president; outgoing Midwestern governors don't tend to place op-eds in national newspapers as a matter of habit.)

Then, as now, Pawlenty worked hard to avoid calling out Romney directly, but the implications of separation are pretty clear. And it suggests that Romney's got a long road ahead of him, seeing his health care plan assailed from the right.

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