Odd of this story becoming the big topic of tonight’s debate? I’d say … sure thing:
Newly obtained White House records provide fresh details on how senior Obama administration officials used Mitt Romney’s landmark health-care law in Massachusetts as a model for the new federal law, including recruiting some of Romney’s own health care advisers and experts to help craft the act now derided by Republicans as “Obamacare.”
The records, gleaned from White House visitor logs reviewed by NBC News, show that senior White House officials had a dozen meetings in 2009 with three health-care advisers and experts who helped shape the health care reform law signed by Romney in 2006, when the Republican presidential candidate was governor of Massachusetts. One of those meetings, on July 20, 2009, was in the Oval Office and presided over by President Barack Obama, the records show.
“The White House wanted to lean a lot on what we’d done in Massachusetts,” said Jon Gruber, an MIT economist who advised the Romney administration on health care and who attended five meetings at the Obama White House in 2009, including the meeting with the president. “They really wanted to know how we can take that same approach we used in Massachusetts and turn that into a national model.”
Rick Perry and other Republicans have attacked Mitt Romney for providing the “blueprint” for ObamaCare, which Romney has successfully rebutted — at least until now. NBC’s report shows that if Romney and his team didn’t provide the blueprint, the argument can be made that the Romney’s team provided at least some direction to Obama and his team.
These weren’t just offhand contacts, either. Besides meeting with Obama himself, Gruber also met with economic adviser Larry Summers, OMB chief Peter Orzsag, and Obama’s point person on health care reform, Nancy-Ann DeParle. Most significantly, these meetings resulted in a contract for $380,000 to produce federal legislation based on Gruber’s work in Massachusetts. Two other Romney aides met several times at the White House on the same topic.
Romney will no doubt stick to his well-rehearsed responses on questions about the similarities between the two plans by noting the differences, but this will give fresh ammunition to Romney’s opponents on stage. Perry had already planned on attacking Romney on RomneyCare, as his latest campaign ad shows, but this will give him fresh ammunition. I’d expect to hear a line like, “While other states came to Texas to see how we created a great economic climate for jobs growth, Obama came to Massachusetts to see how to impose a federal mandate on Americans and take over the health-care sector.” (Or I’d expect to hear a line like that if Perry can deliver it.) Michele Bachmann will probably get into the action, as will Rick Santorum.
However, while this is clearly bad news for Romney on the morning of a national debate, it’s worth asking about how NBC happened to stumble onto this now. They may have diligently perused visitor logs and struck gold, or perhaps someone in the White House helped them along in an attempt to weaken Romney. We’ll never know which it was, but I suspect it wasn’t just dumb luck.
Update: Gruber’s connection to both RomneyCare and ObamaCare isn’t terribly new — the Wall Street Journal wrote about it almost two years ago here. We also wrote about Gruber and his lack of disclosure here, here, and here. The news here is more the level of access provided to RomneyCare architects, including to Obama himself, and not just with Gruber.