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Former Aide: Romney Echoed Roberts Once

June 28, 2012

An MIT economist who helped Mitt Romney design his health insurance program in Massachusetts says that the then-governor used reasoning and language very similar to that of Chief Justice John Roberts in arguing for the necessity of an individual mandate.

"It's a penalty for free riding on the system. That's the way Gov. Romney talked about it," says Jonathan Gruber, who later became one of the key architects of President Obama's Affordable Care Act, which was modeled in part on the Romney law. "Justice Roberts used similar language today" in his opinion upholding what Romney and the Republicans have since denounced as "Obamacare." While Roberts said that Congress did not have the right to mandate behavior, it did retain the right to "tax and spend," including in order to penalize people for not buying health care.

Back in the early 2000s, when Gruber demonstrated to Romney with computer models that, absent an individual mandate, one-third of Massachusetts' poorest and sickest would remain uninsured (and drive up costs for everyone), Romney jumped on the point, instantly converted, says Gruber. Romney went at the problem "like a management consultant or an engineer," even against the advice of his conservative political advisers, Gruber says. "They were concerned about the politics of universal health care. He argued them down."

Today, says Gruber, Romney has just been handed the greatest vindication of his career as a policy-maker--and he's running away from it. "He's completely disingenuous," says Gruber. "There is a total disconnect between who Romney was in Massachusetts and what we're seeing now."

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