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Obama campaign seeking to box Romney in with healthcare ruling

June 28, 2012|By Michael A. Memoli
  • Mitt Romney pauses while speaking about the Supreme Court's healthcare ruling.
Mitt Romney pauses while speaking about the Supreme Court's healthcare… (Charles Dharapak / Associated…)

While President Obama celebrated a victory on policy, the Obama campaign is treating the Supreme Court's decision on healthcare reform as another chance to raise questions about Mitt Romney's record and his plans for the country and calling his response to the ruling a "missed opportunity."

Though the high court's morning announcement surely set off celebration behind the scenes in the campaign's Chicago headquarters, its first public comment was light on self-congratulation and instead centered squarely on the Republican nominee.

Romney, campaign manager Jim Messina said in a statement emailed after the Republican nominee came out against the ruling in Washington, "squandered" a chance to "tell the American people specifically how he would move the nation forward on healthcare."

Messina pointed out, as Democrats have long been fond of doing, that Romney's own healthcare reform law in Massachusetts "became the model" for Obama's law, and achieved universal coverage through the same "individual mandate and tax penalty."

"Now, as he is running for president, Romney has run away from his accomplishment in Massachusetts, callously promising to repeal national reform and 'kill it dead,'" Messina said. "He owes the American people a clear, non-parsed explanation of why he believes his decisions in Massachusetts are wrong for the country, and exactly what he would do to help the American people get the healthcare they need."

Obama campaign aides predicted before the ruling that Romney would use the court's action as the moment to begin fleshing out his own plan for national reform. Romney did offer broad principles in his remarks Thursday: making sure Americans can maintain existing insurance, protecting people with preexisting conditions, partnering with the states, and restraining costs. But he has declined to say specifically how he would accomplish those goals.

The president’s campaign has warned that Romney's plan for preexisting conditions, at least, would be insufficient, and limited only to those who maintain continuous coverage -- something already guaranteed under a 16-year old law. It would not extend protection to those who lost insurance for any reason.

Officials also believe Romney will continue to be boxed in by the Massachusetts law he championed.

Some Republicans have reacted to the ruling by pointing out the justice's majority view that the mandate was valid as a tax provision, not under the commerce clause. In the GOP's view, that opens the door for a case against Obama based on the idea that "Obamacare" is a tax increase on the middle class.

The pro-Obama "super PAC" Priorities USA quickly sought to turn that argument against Romney as well.

"In Massachusetts, Romney imposed a penalty for not purchasing insurance that is twice as large as the federal law that he now attacks," the group argues.

Going forward, the Obama campaign will probably continue a strategy it has pressed in recent weeks: highlighting provisions that stand to benefit key voting constituencies critical to the president’s reelection like women and Latinos. On Twitter, staff members have been directing followers to the campaign’s website dedicated to the reform law and to videos promoting its most popular provisions.

On the primary campaign twitter feed, @BarackObama, came a simple image with just two words: “Obamacare upheld.”

In the short term, the ruling will probably help out with another critical campaign need: fundraising. Before the ruling came down, Messina emailed supporters asking for financial support, saying; “No matter what, today is an important day to have Barack Obama's back.” But Republicans also were raising money off the same court ruling, a continuation of both campaign’s efforts to profit from any decision in today’s hotly partisan world.

michael.memoli@latimes.com

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