Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty are both publicly criticizing the healthcare reforms from President Obama and the Democrats currently being debated in Congress. At the same time, the two Republicans are jabbing at each other on an alternate approach to healthcare issues, seemingly establishing their differences in advance of 2012 campaigns for the White House.
Both Minnesota Gov. Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Gov. Romney were considered as running mates by Sen. John McCain in 2008, and Romney ran a strong race in the primaries against McCain. While Romney is outdistancing Pawlenty in early polls on 2012 GOP contenders, both he and Pawlenty are expected to be among the leading candidates challenging President Obama.
Healthcare reform -- both how the Democrats will execute the legislation and how to pay for it when the country is running up huge deficits -- is a hot-button issue with all Americans, but especially with Republicans. According to a Pew research poll, 44 percent of all Americans oppose the healthcare proposals now before Congress, and a whopping 76 percent of Republicans oppose them.
Romney, attempting to take the GOP leadership role on this issue, pointed to his reforms in Massachusetts as a model for the Democrats.
In an op-ed in USA Today last week, he wrote that health care "is simply too important to the economy, to employment and to America's families to be larded up and rushed through on an artificial deadline. There's a better way. And the lessons we learned in Massachusetts could help Washington find it. No other state has made as much progress in covering their uninsured as Massachusetts."
Pawlenty, seemingly contesting Romney as a prominent GOP voice on healthcare reform, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post on Monday about his own reform efforts in Minnesota. He took a direct shot at Romney: "Massachusetts's experience should caution Congress against focusing primarily on access. While the Massachusetts plan has reduced the number of uninsured people, costs have been dramatically higher than expected. The result? Increased taxes and fees. The Boston Globe has reported on a current short-term funding gap and the need to obtain a new federal bailout."
Pawlenty used a thinly veiled scare tactic to show how if Romney were president, his type of healthcare agenda would damage the nation: "Imagine the scope of tax increases, or additional deficit spending, if that approach is utilized for the entire country."
Clearly, Romney and Pawlenty are seeking national exposure by criticizing the reform bills moving through Congress this year.
Pawlenty: "This past week, Democrats in Congress have been busy tinkering with a Washington takeover of the health-care system, but perhaps they should look instead to the states for models of market-driven, patient-centered and quality-focused reform."
Romney: "Because of President Obama's frantic approach, health care has run off the rails. For the sake of 47 million uninsured Americans, we need to get it back on track."
Regardless of how reform legislation is finally written -- or if it becomes law -- it will likely be a central issue in the 2012 race for the White House. Republican leaders pointedly use the term "socialized medicine" when discussing the Democrats' proposals.
As one GOP strategist said to me, "Don't call it 'healthcare reform.' Be precise: It's 'government-run healthcare.' " Those are fightin' words.
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