For the time being, the GOP primary race appears to be down to two candidates: Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. With the repeal of President Obama’s health care overhaul on the minds of many conservative voters, it’s important to look at where both candidates stand on the issue, where they have possibly fumbled on the issue in the past, and what they hope to achieve with it in the future.
A current poll by Real Clear Politics reveals that 49.4 percent of Americans oppose the health care plan while only 37.2 percent support it.
Santorum, like all the other GOP candidates, opposes “Obamacare.” On his website, Santorum describes that repealing the health care overhaul is his “priority number 1.”
In his proposal, Santorum says he wants to replace Obamacare with “market-driven, patient-centered alternatives to increasing health care access and affordability.” He believes that by encouraging competition between health care insurance agencies and increasing transparency that costs can be reduced. He also is an advocate for allowing patients to buy health care coverage across state lines that may better suit their needs.
While his website claims that repealing the health care overhaul is his number one priority, criticism has been thrown his way for what many of his opponents cite as his indirect responsibility for the passage of Obamacare.
In 2004, Santorum supported former Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter in the GOP Senate primary over the more conservative Pat Toomey. Santorum campaigned for Specter who was viewed with skepticism among many conservatives that he was “too liberal.” Santorum promised the electorate that his colleague was a true conservative.
In 2009, however, Specter switched to the Democratic Party. He is a supporter of gay marriage, the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and a big advocate of abortion rights. The switch gave the Democrats their filibuster 60 seat majority in the Senate, allowing the health care overhaul to pass.
"Arlen Specter supplied the 60th vote that gave us Obamacare and gave us taxpayer-funded abortions," the now former GOP candidate Michele Bachmann told CBS before she left the race. "I never would have supported Arlen Specter, who is a pro-abortion candidate. I never would have done that, and so there are real differences between us."
Santorum defends his previous endorsement by saying that it was rooted in his strong opposition to abortion. Santorum claims Specter had agreed to support Bush, president at the time, and his Supreme Court nominees no matter what. If Specter had lost the Senate seat, Santorum says, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito would not have been confirmed by the Senate.
Specter, according to Politico, denies making any such a promise.
Another potential problem for Santorum and the issue of health care is the uncovering of his role in the passage of the 2003 controversial law that expanded Medicare.
When asked about his vote in favor of the law, Santorum told CNN in an interview on Wednesday, “One of the reasons I held my nose and voted for it was because we did have the private sector model for Medicare prescription drugs…”
However, The Hill reports that Santorum’s involvement of the passage of the bill was actually much greater than “holding his nose.”
At the time of the passage, Santorum was the number three guy in the GOP-led Senate. Many of his colleagues, according to The Hill, say Santorum was campaigning for the bill’s passage. In a memo that dates October 2003 to Senate Republicans, Santorum reportedly warned that Democrats had “gained traction” on domestic issues. He wrote that passing the Medicare drug plan was the way to win over independent voters and warned that the GOP could face serious political consequences if the bill was not passed.
The law expanded prescription drug benefits and at the time it passed was expected to cost the taxpayers $400 billion.
Santorum’s opponents have already jumped on this issue and are trying to use it as a way to say the former senator is not as conservative as he claims.
Texas congressman Ron Paul, who voted against the bill, has called Santorum “very liberal” in regards to his government spending ideology, according to The Hill.
Romney, like his counterparts, has come out and declared that President Obama’s health care reform must be repealed. He wants to replace it with “market-based reforms that empower states and individuals and reduce costs,” much like his rival Santorum.
“States and private markets,” Romney states, “not the federal government, hold the key to improving our healthcare system.”
The last statement, of course, is very important to Romney. It is well-known that as the governor of Massachusetts he implemented a universal health care system in his state very similar to the one Obama imposed at the federal level. Obama even praised Romney for it and was said to have used the former governor’s plans as a blueprint for his own health care overhaul.
Of course, Santorum and other critics of Romney have used this as reasoning to vote against him in November.
“This (campaign) has been a debate about health care, that’s what the behemoth of government, the signature issue is Obamacare,” Santorum said on Good Morning America on Tuesday. “We cannot put up a presidential candidate who is in basically in the same place as Obama on government-run health care.”
While Santorum did back Romney in his presidential bid for 2008, the former senator admits that this year, concerns about the health care system are greater than they were four years ago; therefore, he claims conservative voters should be skeptical of Romney’s track record of the issue.
Santorum, who lost the Iowa caucuses to Romney by a mere eight votes, is prepared to bring the fight to his rival in New Hampshire and health care is sure to be part of the ammunition.