As the late-starting Republican presidential race slogged along for the past several months, it felt like it would never start in earnest. But that may finally change in tonight's presidential debate. Tim Pawlenty, who has been avoiding going after his rivals and specifically avoiding any attacks on the Massachusetts health care program signed by Mitt Romney, finally went on the attack yesterday in a "Fox News Sunday" interview.
Here was the exchange with Fox's Chris Wallace:
WALLACE: You'll be debating Mitt Romney tomorrow for the first time in the -- you're up in New Hampshire, preparing for this debate tomorrow in New Hampshire. What do you make of Romney's argument that there's a fundamental difference between an individual mandate at the federal level, that everyone must get health insurance, and individual mandate at the state level? Do you see a difference in principle between -- on that point between Obamacare and Romneycare?
PAWLENTY: Well, you don't have to take my word for it. You can take President Obama's word for it. President Obama said that he designed Obamacare after Romneycare and basically made it Obamneycare. And so, we now have the same features -- essentially the same features. The president's own words is that he patterned in large measure Obamacare after what happened in Massachusetts. And what I don't understand is they both continue to defend it.
I took a different approach in Minnesota. We did market-based health care reforms, trying to encourage consumers with good information to make good decisions and financial incentives in a market place. But I strongly oppose the individual mandate at any level. I'm one of the parties in the lawsuit in Florida trying to get it declared unconstitutional. I think it's a dramatic overreach by government, forcing a consumer to buy a good or service because of a government edict or mandate. I think it's a dramatic overreach. And I don't like that approach under Obamacare and I've been a strong critic of it. And I think we should repeal Obamacare in its entirety.
WALLACE: And you think -- and you also don't like it under Romneycare?
PAWLENTY: You know, we -- I was asked to consider the individual mandate when I was governor in several occasions and I rejected it every time. And so, you know, we looked at all of the health care options in Minnesota, studied it, I had study groups. I said, study everything -- study everything that you want. And when push came to shove and they made the recommendations to go with the individual mandate at the state level, I strongly rejected it in Minnesota.
If I'd critique his critique a bit, I'd say that there are stronger ways to argue against Romneycare to a Republican primary audience than to say, "You can take President Obama's word for it." I think a far more effective way is to state the undisputed common features of both plans. As I've noted here a number of times, Romneycare and Obamacare both: force individuals to purchase insurance or pay a penalty, expand Medicaid, and provide government subsidies for people to purchase government-designed insurance policies on government-run exchanges.