On the second anniversary of President Barack Obama’s signing of the law overhauling the U.S. health-care system, Mitt Romney aimed to accomplish two goals: renew his vow to repeal it and diminish assertions that the Massachusetts measure he backed was a model for it.
Standing amid signs reading “Repeal and replace Obamacare,” the front-runner in the Republican presidential race said yesterday the federal law has increased government spending, raised taxes and violated religious freedom.
“This presidency has been a failure and the centerpiece of that failure is this piece of legislation,” Romney told voters in Metairie, Louisiana, as he campaigned in advance of the state’s primary today.
It’s an issue that worked for Republicans in 2010 when opposition to the law from anti-tax Tea Party activists helped give the party control of the U.S. House of Representatives and expanded numbers in the U.S. Senate.
The four remaining Republican presidential candidates all have promised to make repeal of the law a central focus of the 2012 campaign.
Yet as Romney attacked the overhaul, he also sought to defuse the criticism directed at him over the Massachusetts measure and its link to the federal one. In an article published in USA Today, he reiterated his opposition to a “one-size-fits- all health-care plan” and outlined support for providing financial aid to states so they could implement their own proposals.
“When I was governor of Massachusetts, we instituted a plan that got our citizens insured without raising taxes and without a government takeover. Other states will choose to go in different directions,” Romney said in the article.
“It is the genius of federalism that it encourages experimentation, with each state pursuing what works best for them,” he said. “Obamacare’s disregard for this core aspect of U.S. tradition is one of its most egregious failings.”
Since the Affordable Care Act became law, public opinion has remained divided on it, with polls showing stronger opposition among Republicans and independents than support from Democrats.
In a Bloomberg National Poll conducted March 8-11, three- fourths of Republicans and 44 percent of independents said the law should be repealed, while 8 percent of Democrats agreed. The margin of error in the survey of 1,002 adults was 3.1 percentage points.
Such poll figures may be one reason the Obama administration marked the anniversary with less fanfare than the president’s Republican rivals. The White House posted video testimony of people helped by the law and Obama’s re-election campaign sent out supportive mailers.
“Obamacare means never having to worry about getting sick and running up against a lifetime cap on insurance coverage,” said an e-mail message from the campaign. “It gives parents the comfort of knowing their kids can stay on their insurance until they’re 26, and that a ‘pre-existing condition’ like an ear infection will never compromise their child’s coverage.”
Obama said nothing about the law in a Rose Garden event yesterday announcing his nominee to head the World Bank.
Republicans rolled out a coordinated effort to stoke opposition to the law with speeches on the House floor, rallies outside the Capitol and advertisements in battleground states.
In debates and at campaign stops, the Republican presidential candidates have said the law represents an unconstitutional overreach of government power that threatens personal freedom. The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments next week in a challenge to the law from 26 states based largely on those grounds.
“If this law is allowed to stand, there will be no end to the power of government,” Newt Gingrich, the former U.S. House speaker seeking the Republican nomination, said in a statement yesterday. “The government will ultimately control very personal decisions over life and death.”
Romney included the health-care law in a list of Obama administration policies he said have harmed the economy as he campaigned yesterday in Shreveport, Louisiana.
“He’s been out there trying to take credit for his policies,” Romney said as he stood in front of an oil rig. “He’s confused. It’s his policies that have caused a lot of our problems.”
Rick Santorum, Romney’s main challenger in the Republican race, also had dual targets yesterday, criticizing Obama’s law and reminding voters that parts of it were based on the Massachusetts bill Romney signed as governor.
The Massachusetts law, like the federal program, includes a requirement that all residents buy health insurance, a provision other Republicans have attacked. Romney’s support for the Massachusetts law, dubbed Romneycare by Santorum, has caused some party voters to question his commitment to a smaller federal government.
“Mitt Romney had misled voters on Romneycare; he said he was not for mandates at the federal level when in fact he was,” Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, said in a statement his campaign released.
Santorum was on the defensive on another point, having to walk back comments he made March 22 that Republicans may leave Obama in office rather than back Romney.
“I would never vote for Barack Obama over any Republican, and to suggest otherwise is preposterous,” he said in a statement e-mailed to reporters. “I was simply making the point that there is a huge enthusiasm gap around Mitt Romney.”
Obama, too, has made an effort to tie Romney to the national law.
“We designed a program that actually previously had support of Republicans -- including the person who may end up being the Republican standard-bearer and is now pretending like he came up with something different,” he said in a March 21 interview with NPR’s Marketplace.
To contact the reporter on this story: Lisa Lerer in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
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