The discovery of a 2009 USA Today op-ed by former Gov. Mitt Romney, in which he urged President Barack Obama to adopt a mandated approach to purchasing health insurance as part of national reform, has generated enormous buzz leading up to Super Tuesday.
Romney has been arguing for several years now that he never supported the idea of compulsory health insurance on a national level. What Buzzfeed's Andrew Kaczynski unearthed was evidence of clear philosophical comfort both with federal penalties for free riders, and with national -- not state-by-state -- health care legislation.
But the idea that Romney was ever uncomfortable with these ideas has always been far-fetched. And as a Huffington Post reader points out, one need only look back to the 2008 presidential campaign for evidence. Take, for instance, this January 2008 ABC debate in which Romney specifically disputed the notion that he opposed the individual mandate applied nationally.
GIBSON: But Governor Romney's system has mandates in Massachusetts, although you backed away from mandates on a national basis.
ROMNEY: No, no, I like mandates. The mandates work.
FRED THOMPSON: I beg your pardon? I didn't know you were going to admit that. You like mandates.
ROMNEY: Let me -- let me -- oh, absolutely. Let me tell you what kind of mandates I like, Fred, which is this. If it weren't...
THOMPSON: The ones you come up with.
ROMNEY: Here's my view: If somebody -- if somebody can afford insurance and decides not to buy it, and then they get sick, they ought to pay their own way, as opposed to expect the government to pay their way.
ROMNEY: And that's an American principle. That's a principle of personal responsibility.
The "I like mandates" quote from Romney resurfaced at various points during the current primary by the governor's opponents. But it rarely, includes the preceding question in the transcript from Gibson. Nor is Romney's description of the mandate as "an American principle" often discussed. That may be because later in the debate, Romney distinctly states that he wouldn't force other states to do what he did in Massachusetts. But even then, it is attached to language supporting a federal role in securing universal coverage.
I would not mandate at the federal level that every state do what we do. But what I would say at the federal level is, 'We'll keep giving you these special payments we make if you adopt plans that get everybody insured.' I want to get everybody insured.
Romney spokesman Ryan Williams, speaking after a Santorum even on the outskirts of Columbus, Ohio, offered the following response to reports that the former governor advocated a nationwide mandate:
"He is consistent in advocating for a state-by-state approach on health care.... he has always said that health care should be determined at the state level. States are the laboratories of democracy, the place where policy should be implemented."
The debate transcript gives off the same impression as the USA Today op-ed: mainly that Romney once occupied a different philosophical perch with respect to federal health care policy. It also shows how poorly staffed the rest of the GOP field has been with respect to opposition research. The fact that it's taken this long for these quotes to surface could end up making a huge difference with respect to the Republican primary outcome.