“On day one”

    Mitt Romney clearly anticipated that he’d be dancing on the grave of Obamacare. But now that health reform is alive and well, he has to inveigh against it for the rest of the campaign. He launched Plan B yesterday, with his vow to kill the law “on day one.”Memo to Mitt: Knock yourself out.He’s not likely to get much political traction. A new Gallup poll says that only six percent of Americans cite health reform as a top-priority issue; most people are weary of it, or bored with it, or confused about it. And swing voters aren’t likely to buy Romney’s “repeal and replace” rap anyway, because most of his rhetoric is meaningless. And given his historic status as the first and only governor to champion an insurance purchase mandate, he’s a bad messenger for repeal.It takes roughly two seconds of cognitive thought to spot the fundamental flaw of his “repeal” pitch. Unless the Republicans pull off the impossible in November, and win a filibuster-proof majority in the U.S. Senate, a President Romney will never repeal Obamacare – not “on day one,” or day 100 or day 200. He’d have to pull it off next year, because Obamacare takes full effect in 2014. Not gonna happen. In the fallback scenario, Romney and the congressional GOP would have to hack away at the reform law in piecemeal fashion, year after year, messing with people’s newly-won benefits every step of the way.     So Romney’s “day one” talk is strictly red meat for the conservative voters in 2012, and maybe they’ll swallow it. On the other hand, every time he attacks health reform and the purchase mandate, they may well remember that this is the guy who first championed health reform and the purchase mandate. Here’s Romney, as Massachusetts governor, captured on video in 2006: “With regards to the mandate, the individual responsibility program which I proposed, I was very pleased to see that the compromise from the two (legislative chambers) includes the personal responsibility principle. That is essential for bringing health care costs down for everyone and getting everybody the health insurance they deserve and need.”Romney has alternately ignored his own signature achievement – and embraced it by insisting that his reform law was just one state’s solution. But his law imposes a tax/penalty on citizens who refused to buy health coverage, as does Obama’s law – and Chief Justice John Roberts has blessed that provision as constitutional. Indeed, Republican strategist Alex Castellanos said yesterday that the high court ruling “does bring Romneycare back into play a little bit.”

    It sure does. How can Romney assail Obama for imposing a “tax increase” (albeit, only on those who refuse to compy) when he himself championed the same thing? Here’s Romney in 2009, writing about his Massachusetts reform law in a USA Today guest column: “Using tax penalties, as we did…encourages ‘free riders’ to take responsibility for themselves rather than pass their medical costs on to others.”And if Romney he keeps vowing to kill Obamacare, swing voters may well demand to know what he would do to help the uninsured, the seniors, the kids with preexisting health problems, the young adults who can’t afford their own coverage, the women who routinely suffer gender discrimination in the insurance marketplace, and the workers who lose coverage when they lose their jobs.David Frum, the former George W. Bush speechwriter and veteran conservative commentator, said yesterday that, thanks to the high court’s ruling on Obamacare, “2012 is now also a referendum on Mitt Romney’s health care plans. The president can now plausibly say that a vote for the Republicans is a vote to raise prescription drug costs on senior citizens, and to empower insurance companies to deny coverage to children for preexisting conditions.”In theory, Romney could rebut Obama by detailing his “repeal and replace” agenda, but he’s not big on specifics. Aside from his endorsement of the Paul Ryan budget plan (which is very specific about slashing Medicaid, and thus imperiling health coverage for poor people), Romney has almost nothing to say. He vows to give states “the incentive and flexibility to experiment,” whatever that means. He won’t commit to providing coverage to people with preexisting health woes (one of the most popular features of Obamacare); instead, he’s just vowing to protect the “continuously insured” – the people who already have coverage, but who might lose it once they get sick.Romney refuses to be pinned down on specifics; he’d rather lie about Obamacare. That’s a lot easier. Yesterday, for instance, he claimed that the health reform law would add “trillions to our deficits and to our national debt” – whereas, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the law will actually lower the deficit over the next decade. Indeed, last year, the CBO projected that the repeal of Obamacare would increase the deficit by roughly $200 billion over the next decade. Moreover, the CBO has already determined that the cost of Obamacare (namely, the subsidies that will make health insurance affordable for all) will be roughly one-third the cost of Romney’s proposed tax cuts – which, naturally, are tilted heavily toward the rich.So we’re stuck with the GOP’s last-ditch rhetoric for another four months (“Obamatax,” screams the new logo on Fox News). Indeed, as I noted this morning in my newspaper column, Chief Justice Roberts teed up the Republicans even as he upheld the law: “Members of this court…possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.”But if Obama can finally get it together to tout the features of his own law – an historic boon to roughly 30 million Americans, whose future would be imperiled by Republican hostility – the president might frame that choice to his (marginal) advantage.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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