March 8, 2010

I watched the better part of that Book TV interview Romney did this weekend with Juan Williams and it was about as painful to watch as this debacle with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. When you're talking in circles trying to answer questions from those two, you're in trouble.

Our friend Steve Benen weighed in on the interview at Washington Monthly:

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) is in a tough spot when it comes to health care reform. On the one hand, he seriously thinks he should be the Republican Party's presidential nominee in 2012, and needs as big a gap as possible between himself and President Obama.

On the other, Romney successfully passed health care reform in Massachusetts four years ago, and his plan is awfully similar to what the president is proposing now. If Republicans think they hate Obama's plan, and Obama's plan was Romney's plan, they're going to hate the crowning achievement of Romney's limited, one-term political career. Read on...

This statement he made was the one that really astounded me.

ROMNEY: A big difference -- a state plan versus a federal plan. No new taxes, unlike his plan. No cut in Medicare, unlike his plan. And no controls over insurance premiums, price controls, cost controls like his plan. So very, very different in that regard.

It's the difference between a racehorse and a donkey, if you will, so -- they both have four legs, but one works pretty well and the other's not working and would not work at all.

So Romney thinks cost controls are bad huh? He went on right after that statement to defend the insurance industry. Maybe he can ask Frank Luntz to include those bullet points in the next memo he sends out to the Republicans. Insurance comanies good, cost controls bad and never mind those pesky CEO salaries and bonuses they're making while your premiums go through the roof.

Transcript via Nexis Lexis below the fold.

WALLACE: Now, on the domestic side, you call the president and Democrats, quote, "neo-monarchists," and you say that they would replace a culture of opportunity with a culture of dependency. Explain what you mean.

ROMNEY: Well, you know, from the very beginning of the country there was a great debate about whether we would be a nation led by a king or a strong central government, or instead whether we would pursue a course where individuals followed their dreams.

And the chaos associated with free enterprise and freedom was deemed by the founders to be a greater potential source of strength than having a central government that told us what to do.

But in Washington today, among President Obama and many liberals, there's a view that if there's a problem in America, government can solve it best. And the example, of course, is health care.

We do have problems in health care, but the idea that government can step in and take over the health care system, and tell insurers and providers and doctors and hospitals how to do a better job -- that, in my view, is as silly as saying that we want to have the folks who run the post office and Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and Amtrak running one-fifth of our economy.

WALLACE: Governor, I want to pick up on this, because we got a lot of e-mail from conservatives this week who said that you are the wrong man to be making that point, and they pointed specifically to your role in passing health care reform in Massachusetts. In your book, you criticize actions by your successor, Governor Patrick, but then you write this, and let's put it up on the screen. "Even with these added costs and policy choices by the legislature and the new governor, the plan is working."

But let's look at the record. According to the Wall Street Journal, average Massachusetts health care premiums are now the highest in the nation. Per capita health spending is 27 percent higher than the national average. And fiscal 2010 costs are $47 million over budget. Is that your idea of, quote, "the plan is working?"

ROMNEY: Well, let's go back and look at the facts. First of all, Massachusetts had very high health care costs before our plan was put in place. And what our plan did was focus on getting everybody insured. And that it's done. Some 98 percent of Massachusetts individuals have insurance.

And since the plan has been put in place, premiums for those individuals have risen at 5 percent per year, pretty substantially below the kind of numbers you're seeing across the nation.

And I think you could also recognize that we have work to do, which is to bring down the cost of health care throughout the country. That's a big issue, something we tackled for the people who were uninsured in the past because we got premiums down for them. But getting premiums down for the entire population is now the next responsibility.

Let me tell you, there's a big difference between what we did and what President Obama is doing. What we did, I think, is the ultimate conservative plan. We said people have to take responsibility for getting insurance, if they can afford it, or paying their own way. No more free- riders. And we solved this at the state level -- not a federal plan, but a state plan.

This is a federalist nation. States should be able to solve their own problems. We didn't raise taxes. We did not at the same time cut Medicare and expect our seniors to have to pay for all this. We didn't do what President Obama's doing, which is putting controls on our system of premiums for private insurance companies.

And let me just tell you, I think our plan is working well. And perhaps the best thing I can say about it is that it is saving lives. It is the ultimate pro-life effort, if you will, because people who otherwise could have lost their lives are now able to get the kind of care that they deserve.

WALLACE: But, Governor, let's look at the plan that you signed into law in Massachusetts in 2006. You have an individual mandate. You have an employer mandate. You have subsidiaries for some of the uninsured. You set minimum insurance coverage standards.

Again, a lot of e-mails I got from conservatives say -- make this point. They say it sure sounds an awful lot like "Obama-care."

ROMNEY: A big difference -- a state plan versus a federal plan. No new taxes, unlike his plan. No cut in Medicare, unlike his plan. And no controls over insurance premiums, price controls, cost controls like his plan. So very, very different in that regard.

It's the difference between a racehorse and a donkey, if you will, so -- they both have four legs, but one works pretty well and the other's not working and would not work at all.

And a couple other things. The facts of those features are not exactly right. The plan this year, for instance, is $80 million below budget. It's coming in very much within the range that was forecast when the legislature and I put this together.

And there were some features that I didn't like that the legislature put in place, for instance -- the provision that said that insurance companies are told what kinds of coverages have to be included. That's something I vetoed. They overrode it. That's the nature of a -- of a bipartisan process.

And let me tell you one thing I'm also proud of. We were able to do in our state something which is not being done in Washington. And that is we worked on a bipartisan basis. Republicans and Democrats came together. And we worked out something which we thought was pretty good and, on my view, a step forward.

But you know, the states were designed to be the laboratories of democracy. This is an example where people can take a good look, see what they like, what they don't like.

But the idea of taking what we did and applying something entirely different to the entire nation is not the right approach. And I think that's why President Obama is seeing the kind of resistance that he's experiencing.

WALLACE: Yeah, but I want to pursue this, if I may, Governor. The libertarian, and certainly the somewhat conservative, Cato Institute says that your plan in Massachusetts is a mirror -- a mirror plan of "Obama- care." They say it's quite right you didn't raise taxes, but they say, in fact, you got millions of dollars from the federal government to finance your plan.

ROMNEY: Well, what we have is a plan which is paid for half by the state and half by the federal government. The cost is about 1.5 percent of the state budget.

And the federal dollars we received were federal dollars that we were entitled to through a program called DISH, the disproportionate share program. Federal funds had been applied to Massachusetts, just like to other states, for the care of those that were uninsured.

We said, "Let's take that money that's been going to hospitals that are caring for the uninsured and instead help people buy their own private insurance." No government insurance. No government option, if you will.

WALLACE: Well, there's no...

ROMNEY: Private health insurance.

WALLACE: ... government option in the Obama plan anymore, either.

ROMNEY: No, that's right. That's right. And so what we did was entirely different than what President Obama is proposing on the bases that I'm taking you through.

And again, I like the idea of letting states solve their problems one by one and find the best alternative. I think we're the first state in the -- in the nation that found a way to get everybody insured without having to raise taxes.

We do insist that people buy insurance or pay their own way. And if they -- if they don't buy insurance, they'll find that their taxes are higher. The employer mandate is pretty soft. An employer pays -- I think it's $285 a year if an employee doesn't have insurance that they bought on their own or if they bought through the company.

So it's a plan that has pros and cons. The biggest pro, in my view, is that we don't have free riders now expecting other people to pay for their health care costs. And we're also able to have individuals who otherwise would not have the kind of specialty care they need receiving treatment.

One of the members of my administration told me just two days ago that after she left our administration, she was diagnosed with brain cancer and that had she not been in Massachusetts, she would not been able to receive the insurance that she needed and the specialist care that has now saved her life. That's the biggest reason for helping people get insurance.

WALLACE: Governor, I want to -- I want to press this just one more time on a different angle. This week you went after President Obama for his attacks on insurance companies. Let's take a look at that.


ROMNEY: The president has really been disingenuous by trying to lay this at the feet of the insurance companies. No one believes that health care is expensive in America because of insurance companies.


WALLACE: Now, Democrats point out that, in fact, Anthem Blue Cross of California just wanted to raise its insurance premiums in California by 39 percent. They pulled it back only under pressure.

And there's a new report -- you, of course, know the markets. Goldman Sachs has a new analysis that suggests that people buy shares of a couple of insurance companies because they say rates are going up and competition is going down. And a Democratic Party spokesman the other day said this, and we'll put it on the screen. "It's becoming crystal clear whose side Mitt Romney is on, and it's not yours, unless, of course, you are an insurance company or a Wall Street bank. Then he's on your side."


ROMNEY: Chris, the president is scapegoating. It's something which he is fond to do any time one of his programs gets in trouble. He decides to pick a target and say, "This is the cause of America's problem," whether that's Wall Street, or Goldman Sachs, or bankers, or wealthy people, or whether it's insurance companies.

And as I pointed out in the same address that you quoted a little later in the speech, I think one sentence later, there are insurance companies that are doing bad things. They should be pointed out and targeted.

But to suggest that the overall health care cost of America, which, by the way, is dramatically higher than any other nation in the world, is because of the insurance companies is obviously quite silly.

Our health care costs are very, very high because we use a lot of health treatments. Hospitals, doctors, MRIs, surgeries and so forth are more extensively used and far more expensive in this country than they are in many other countries.

It's not the insurance companies that are driving our health care cost up and up. The reason their premiums are going up is because doctor bills and hospital bills and usage and so forth is also going up.

But again, if there's some bad actors in there among health insurance companies, and I'm sure there must be a number of them with 1,000 or so companies in America, point them out, go after them, put their feet to the fire.

But don't pretend that the Obama health care plan is simply about going after insurance companies. It's about taking over the health care system and making choices that people would rather make themselves.

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