As a GOP presidential candidate, Mitt Romney's main problem is that he signed Massachusetts' universal health-care bill, which is structurally similar to the reforms signed by President Obama. In the past, Romney has tried to elide this problem by stressing the distinction between state and federal action, but it wasn't very convincing. However, as Ben Smith points out, the argument has a bit more currency now that conservatives have coalesced behind a core, constitutional objection to the Affordable Care Act:
Because the main objection to ObamaCare, as its critics call it, is no longer a matter of policy nuance. Now critics primarily make the case that it's an unconstitutional expansion of specifically federal power. And on that turf, the similar structure of the plans doesn't matter. Romney enacted his at a state level, and states have -- conservatives argue -- more power to regulate the insurance industry, as they do with car insurance.
"I'm not going to apologize for the rights of states to craft plans on a bipartisan basis to help their people," Romney said on Good Morning America this morning, and it's no longer a bad answer.
I'm not quite sure that Romney is in the clear. Whether or not this argument flies depends on whether conservatives view universal coverage as an acceptable goal. If they're OK with state-implemented universal coverage, then Romney can breathe a little easier. But if they're opposed to universal coverage as a matter of political principle, then there's little Romney can do to mitigate criticism from his right. As it stands, the conservative consensus is quickly moving to a point where any form of universal coverage is unacceptable.
-- Jamelle Bouie