For more than a year Team Obama has been trying to bleed Mitt Romney by arguing that the disaster that is Obamacare is really just an expanded version of the Massachusetts health care reform package shepherded and signed into law by Mitt Romney. The twofold advantage of this argument is that it attempts to bolster Obamacare’s “bipartisan” roots even as it bleeds one of the GOP’s possible nominees who matches up well against Obama.
The “Obamacare evolved from the Massachusetts model” argument is on its face absurd, neglecting as it does scores of significant differences between the laws, the most obvious one is that the Massachusetts plan was negotiated and bipartisan and Obamacare was wildly partisan and jammed down in the face of strong public opposition, and the most important of which is that the Constitution empowers the states to do many things that are forbidden to the federal government. Other obvious differences are found in Obamacare’s scale and grasping, expansive nature that is right now crippling an economic recovery by adding significantly to the potential cost of every new job created. Still other differences include the fact that Obama’s plan massively raised taxes on medical devices and in other areas and slashed benefits to seniors via huge cuts to Medicare even as it failed to impact the numbers of uninsured across the country.
The Massachusetts program, a genuine compromise between Romney and the State House Democrats, built a wall against single-payer in Massachusetts, did not raise taxes, and has by-and-large accomplished its goal of getting almost everyone in the state covered. Health care costs have risen in Massachusetts as they have across the country, but there is no arguing that they wouldn’t have risen anyway, and Romney’s plan was not a cost-containment plan but a coverage-without-breaking-the-bank plan.
These crucial differences disappear when MSMers come to write the comparison pieces between the two approaches. Sometimes the reporters are just MSM shills for the president, but sometimes, as with the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, there doesn’t seem to be a real appreciation for the very high value that conservatives put on state authority and the operation of federalism’s checks on the growth of the central government.
I had a long and vigorous discussion with Lizza about these points on yesterday’s show, from small ones such as the MSM’s elevating of lefty MIT economist Jonathan Gruber to “Romney advisor” status to the big one which is the role of the states as a stop on federal power. The transcript is here, and if nothing else it is an introduction to the role of perspective in political reporting, how it shapes and drives narrative.
Towards the end of our conversation, I summed up our different points of view this way: I have always thought that Massachusetts care represented a much needed off ramp from the road to single payer –a state-designed-and-implemented set of innovations that would keep versions of Hillarycare at bay, a bulwark against the federal takeover of health care that was smashed by the tidal wave election of 2008. By contrast, Ryan Lizza thinks the Massachusetts plan built a bridge to Obamacare, which is itself a bridge to single payer.
Here is one test of the two views. I did my first reporting on Massachusetts care for my 2007 book on Romney. At that time, no one I interviewed thought the Massachusetts plan was a model for the federal government’s takeover of health care, but many did think it could work in other states depending on their health care infrastructure and demographic mix. No GOP candidate then, in any debate or argument with Romney, attacked the individual mandate as an assault on freedom (though the libertarian wing of the GOP rooted in Cato has always blasted the individual mandate.)
Now the president’s re-election team has spun a narrative that enlists Massachusetts’ plan in the president’s attempt to deflect the public still-massive anger’s over Obamacare. Some of Romney’s GOP rivals have done the same thing. Both are predictable and indeed shrewd tactical decisions driven by the political battles of the moment.
But MSM is supposed to be reporting the facts of the two systems, not the constructed narrative of the incumbent, powerfully attractive as it might be. And conservative pundits and intellectuals need especially to be careful to note the key virtues of federalism and state innovation, and the massive difference between a targeted innovation adopted in one state and a massive bureaucratic imposition born in Washington, D.C. and shoved down the throats of every state government that cannot contrive for itself a waiver.
As I said to Ryan yesterday, this is Federalist 10 stuff. I don’t expect people of the left to know or care much about the theory of government expounded there, but it ought to matter among originalists.