By almost any measure, the 2006 universal care law Governor Mitt Romney championed in Massachusetts has been a clear success. A bipartisan bill which Ted Kennedy worked closely with Romney to pass, the law has reduced the ranks of the uninsured from 10 percent to a national low of two percent. Massachusetts residents overwhelmingly favor the popular health care law there by a 3 to 1 margin.
But in his desperate quest to win over conservative Republican primary voters, Mitt Romney has turned his back on his signature achievement which he once boasted was a health care model for the nation. And to do it, Romney has been lying for months by telling voters "Obamacare is about taking over 100 percent of the people's insurance in this country."
A year ago, Politifact declared the Republican description of President Obama's Affordable Care Act as a "government takeover of health care" its 2010 Lie of the Year. Nevertheless, Mitt Romney has put a variant of this long ago debunked "Pants on Fire" lie at the center of his claim that "Romneycare" and "Obamacare" are entirely different. His latest attempt at misdirection came during Saturday night's Republican presidential forum hosted by Mike Huckabee. As Mitt tried to explain to a clearly skeptical Ken Cuccinelli, Attorney General of Virginia:
"Am I proud of what we did for our state? Yes. But what the president has done is way beyond what we envisioned. We were trying to take of the 8 percent of the population that didn't have insurance. The President is not just worried about the people without insurance. Obamacare is about taking over 100 percent of the people's insurance in this country."
In a September 15, 2011 interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Romney made the same charge:
"The Massachusetts plan was crafted for Massachusetts, for the needs of 8 percent of our population that didn't have insurance, not for the 92 percent that did. Obamacare is a plan that takes over 100 percent of the people in the country and their health care, and that's one of the reasons why people don't want it."
Sadly for Mitt Romney, repetition of a lie doesn't make it any more true.
The Affordable Care Act passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in the spring of 2010 targets the 17 percent of people (over 50 million people) who are uninsured. As Politifact explained in deeming Romney's fraud another "Pants on Fire" lie:
According to the Census Bureau, the percentage of Americans without health insurance nationally was slightly under 17 percent in 2009, the year Obama began pushing for the bill. According to a Congressional Budget Office estimate, the number was about the same in 2010, when the measure was signed into law. Other estimates have pegged the national number at about 15 percent.
As Henry Aaron, a senior fellow with the centrist-to-liberal Brookings Institution right noted, comparing 8 percent to 17 percent "would have been apples to apples" when it comes to the impact of the individual mandate at the center of both the Massachusetts and national plans.
But Romney's chicanery (which Politifact branded "a felony case of comparing apples and oranges") hardly ends there:
Both laws leave in place the major existing insurance systems -- employer-provided insurance, Medicare for seniors and Medicaid for the poor. They reduce the number of uninsured by expanding Medicaid and by offering tax breaks to help people with moderate incomes buy insurance, using voluntary "exchanges" that individuals and small businesses can use to purchase private-sector health insurance. Under both laws, individuals are required to have insurance or pay a penalty, a mechanism called the "individual mandate." And companies that don't offer insurance to employees must pay fines, with exceptions for small business and a few other cases.
You don't have to take Politifact's word. Virginia AG Ken Cuccinelli, who is leading the multi-state lawsuit to have the Supreme Court find the ACA unconstitutional, concluded "I don't see a lot of distance there between him and the president" on the issue. Or you can check with MIT professor Jonathan Gruber, who helped both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama architect their health care plans. As Gruber described Romney to Time's Karen Tumulty in November 2007:
"He was incredibly impressive, with his intellect, his ability. If there is anything that qualifies him to be President of the United States, it is his leadership on this issue."
Four years later, Jonathan Gruber has reached a much different conclusion about Mitt Romney, or at least this version of him. The difference between what Republicans deride as Romneycare and Obamacare?
"Zero difference," he said. "This is, to my mind, the most blatantly obvious case of politics trumping policy I've ever seen in my life. Because this is an idea, that four or five years ago, Republicans were touting. A guy from the Heritage Foundation spoke at the bill signing in Massachusetts about how good this bill was."
He credited Mitt Romney for not totally disavowing the Massachusetts bill during his presidential campaign, but said Romney's attempt to distinguish between Obama's bill and his own is disingenuous.
"The problem is there is no way to say that," Gruber said. "Because they're the same f**king bill. He just can't have his cake and eat it too. Basically, you know, it's the same bill. He can try to draw distinctions and stuff, but he's just lying. The only big difference is he didn't have to pay for his. Because the federal government paid for it. Where at the federal level, we have to pay for it, so we have to raise taxes."
Of course, Mitt Romney is lying about his contortionist act on health care, just as he about abortion, immigration, climate change and so much else. When Mitt Romney said "I think you'll find that I've been as consistent as human beings can be" and "I'm a man of steadiness and constancy," 100 percent of Americans shouldn't believe him.
After all, his lips were moving.
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)