ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Republican Mitt Romney outlined a national health care plan Thursday that would empower states to decide coverage rules, spelling out differences with President Barack Obama's overhaul but refusing to renounce his own Massachusetts law that was a precursor to Obama's.
The all-but-declared 2012 presidential candidate said that backing away from the plan he signed as Massachusetts governor or changing his overall health care vision would be politically expedient given that health care has become a liability rather than an asset for him among conservative critics in the past two years.
But he declared, "I am not adjusting the plan to reflect the political sentiment."
The former Massachusetts governor tried to address a huge vulnerability in an appearance in Michigan, as well as counter the notion that he bends his positions to suit the current political environment. He was lambasted during his first White House run for reversing his positions on abortion and gay rights for what critics called political reasons. The health plan he described Thursday was the same one he proposed during his presidential run
Romney used a 29-minute appearance in this early primary voting state where he has family roots to lay out differences between the Massachusetts and federal plans. Instead of speaking from prepared remarks at a GOP-sponsored event at the University of Michigan hospital, he talked from notes and used a slide presentation to deliver what at times felt like a college lecture on health care.
Comparing his state version with Obama's, he said, "Our plan was a state solution to a state problem. And his is a power grab by the federal government to put in place a one-size-fits plan across the nation." He added that his state's plan was "a more modest approach."
His pitch is unlikely to appease critics who want him to make a clean break from the Massachusetts law's requirement that all residents obtain health insurance. That mandate is a cornerstone of the Obama-backed plan passed by Congress last year and despised by conservatives who have much power in determining the Republican presidential nominee.
Much of what he said Thursday, he's said before.
Romney again said the law he backed as governor was right for Massachusetts but Obama's, which requires federally mandated health care coverage for all U.S. residents, is a bad idea and should be repealed. He said that many pundits argue that he should stand up and say his own state law was a mistake, "that it was just a bone-headed idea and I should just admit it."
"There's only one problem with that," Romney said. "It wouldn't be honest. I, in fact, did what I believe was right for the people of my state."
"Governor Romney is spot on," Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said after the speech. "This has been Utah's message to the Feds all along—give states control of block funding, let states be the incubators of innovation, limit federal intrusion, maximize state flexibility, promote portability and enhance customer choice. It's like he took a page out of Utah's playbook."
"You can only tell with the passage of time if this approach is going to work," said Quin Monson, associate director of Brigham Young University's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. "This is going to be a majority issue for Mitt Romney. Anything he can do to diffuse it and handle it early on is a good idea."
Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics and a Romney supporter said the speech was a good starting point.
"It is a question among voters, about how 'Romneycare' and 'Obamacare' compare and what his vision for the future is. … It's a great first step of settling the issue. Romney has been very consistent on saying health care should be left to the states," Jowers said.
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