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Mitt Romney signs Romneycare in 2006 and campaigns against Obamacare in 2012.
Shocking news: Mitt Romney tries to have it both ways for a third time
Purely based on the substance, this was one of the more interesting moments of last night's debate. It started with President Obama raising Mitt Romney's promise to repeal Obamacare. "Governor Romney says we should replace it," the president said. But, he said, there's a problem.
OBAMA: The problem is, he hasn't described what exactly we'd replace it with, other than saying we're going to leave it to the states.

But the fact of the matter is that some of the prescriptions that he's offered, like letting you buy insurance across state lines, there's no indication that that somehow is going to help somebody who's got a pre-existing condition be able to finally buy insurance.

Romney, pressed by Jim Lehrer to explain how he'd replace Obamacare, responded:
ROMNEY: Well, actually it's — it's — it's a lengthy description. But, number one, preexisting conditions are covered under my plan. Number two, young people are able to stay on their family plan. That's already offered in the private marketplace. You don't have to have the government mandate that for that to occur.
That response—just five sentences long—amounts to a hat trick of deception, and it was clearly designed to blur the differences between Romney and the president on health care.

First, instead of actually saying what his plan is, Romney resorted to the old "it would take too long to explain it" dodge. But that's not true—to the extent he has previously articulated a plan for replacing Obamacare, it's been focused almost entirely on allowing people to purchase insurance across state lines and expanding tax deductions to the individual market. That doesn't take long to explain, but there's a problem: Romney's plan wouldn't deliver any of the benefits of Obamacare, and as the rest of Romney's answer showed, he wants to promise those very same benefits.

For example, Romney's second claim was that his plan covers people with pre-existing conditions. That probably sounded great to the debate audience, but the truth is that he has never released a health care plan that actually covers pre-existing conditions. In fact, earlier this year on Jay Leno's show, Romney said that his plan didn't cover them. Moreover, after the debate, his own top adviser conceded that President Obama was right: Romney would leave pre-existing conditions up to the states.

Pressed by TPM’s Evan McMorris-Santoro, Fehrnstrom said those who currently lack coverage because they have pre-existing conditions would need their states to implement their own laws — like Romney’s own Massachusetts health care law — that ban insurance company from discriminating against sick people.

“We’d like to see states do what Massachusetts did,” Fehrnstrom said. “In Massachusetts we have a ban on pre-existing conditions.”

So, if they'd like to see states do what Massachusetts did ... then why repeal Obamacare, which is modeled after what Massachusetts did? It makes no sense—and Romney knows it. That's why, during the debate, he flip-flopped and took the Obamacare position on preexisting conditions. And the reason he won't explain how he'd do that is because the only way he can do that is by leaving Obamacare in place. If he implements the plan he's proposed, preexisting conditions simply wouldn't be covered. And even his own campaign couldn't say otherwise.

The third and final element to Romney's answer was his statement that under his plan, "young people are able to stay on their family plan." To really appreciate Romney's brass, you have to take another look at his explanation for why that's would be the case. "That's already offered in the private marketplace," he said. "You don't have to have the government mandate that for that to occur."

To the extent that statement is true, Obamacare is the reason. The ability of young people to stay on their family plans isn't something that spontaneously started being "offered in the private marketplace." Instead, it became an option for young people because Obamacare requires it. In other words, Mitt Romney is either lying—because repealing Obamacare would eliminate that requirement—or he's saying that he doesn't want to repeal one of the central features of Obamacare.

To recap:

  1. Romney dodged explaining his health care plan by saying it was too "lengthy" to describe, which just isn't true.
  2. Romney, despite refusing to detail his plan, said it covered pre-existing conditions just like Obamacare even though he has previously taken the opposite position and even though his own campaign did not stand by his claim.
  3. Romney says his plan wouldn't kick young people of their family plans because he says young people are already able to get coverage through their parents. But Obamacare is what makes that possible, and if his plan is to continue that policy, he's endorsing a key element of Obamacare.

President Obama rebutted Romney's first and second points during the debate, with particular emphasis on Romney's recurring pattern of refusing to say how he'd achieve his promises. And he did make it clear that the way to achieve the promises made by Romney would be to keep Obamacare in place. But he didn't go for Romney's jugular and point out that Mitt Romney was essentially endorsing Obamacare in substance, if not name.

In the end, Romney's answer sounded good, but a key part of the reason that it sounded good is that he claimed President Obama's positions as his own—and didn't get called out for it. That might have been enough to give him a "win" last night, but last night was just one night. And as long as President Obama and his campaign are ready and willing to fight back and point out the gap between what Romney said last night and what he's said throughout the campaign, I don't think it's a victory that can be sustained.

Originally posted to The Jed Report on Thu Oct 04, 2012 at 07:56 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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