WASHINGTON — President Obama said Monday he now supports a plan by
Republican Senator Scott Brown that allows states to opt out of the health care overhaul’s key requirements early, a concession that positions the president as willing to compromise on his signature accomplishment.
Obama's shift was announced in an address to the nation’s governors, many of whom have sued the White House to prevent implementation of the health care law. While boosting the prospects of the Massachusetts senator’s bipartisan bill in the Senate, the new position is unlikely to placate the health care law’s detractors or gain approval in the GOP-controlled House. And such an endorsement will not win back support for Brown from Tea Party conservatives, who ferociously denounce the law as an overreach of federal power.
The senator has previously called for the repeal of the health care overhaul, but has shown a willingness to work within the existing rules to change the law for the benefit of Massachusetts residents.
Brown and Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon filed the bill earlier this year. The legislation would enable states to request permission to withdraw from the law’s mandates in 2014 rather than in 2017. To receive the exemption, the states must demonstrate that they could find other ways to cover as many people as the original law would — something Massachusetts has already accomplished — and do so without adding costs. The earlier date is when many of the act’s central provisions take effect.
The legislation is unlikely to significantly affect Massachusetts, which already has implemented many of the core elements of the national plan, but it would allow other states to forge their own plans.
The president said such a change would allow states to tailor the law to their own needs.
"Alabama is not going to have exactly the same needs of Massachusetts or California or North Dakota," Obama said in making the announcement. "We believe in that flexibility."
Brown said that he was pleased with the president's support but reiterated his opposition to the overall law. "(Senator Brown) strongly opposes the federal health care law, and believes states should have the ability to implement their own plans that provide quality care for all their citizens," his office said in a statement.
Tom Miller, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said that the legislation probably won’t earn Brown any additional support from conservatives; rather, he’s trying to earn support from moderates.
"People who think this bill is fundamentally flawed and the approach is the wrong one to begin with should not take much solace in saying that if you can come up with a slightly different approach to the basic system," he said.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.