Mitt Romney's Medicare, Medicaid Claim Backfires

WASHINGTON -- Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney told voters on the campaign trail in Iowa today that before he entered the world of politics, he never quite understood the difference between Medicare and Medicaid -- the two government-funded health care programs that serve the elderly and the poor, respectively.

"I have to admit, I didn't know all the differences between these things before I got into government," said Romney. "And then I got into it and understood that Medicaid is the health care program for the poor, by and large."

It was a throwaway line, coming in the thirty-eighth minute of a roughly 45-minute town hall affair. And Romney didn't really have to say it. He was in the midst of talking up the similarities between his plan for Medicare reform and the plan introduced yesterday by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and had soon meandered on to other topics.

But within minutes the admission had turned into a headache. Romney, as Talking Points Memo noted, had taken over health care companies while at the head of private equity firm Bain Capital. As Reason magazine noted, he also talked up his time as "a young consultant to a health-care company in the late 1970s" in his own book, No Apology. As a senate candidate in 1994, he spoke in detail about Medicaid policy, specifically with respect to whether federal funds could be used from it to fund abortion.

Sure enough, within hours, the campaign was clarifying Romney's statement. "He didn't know the particulars and the ins and outs," said spokeswoman Andrea Saul, aboard a plane heading to South Carolina. Saul added that "he knew the difference [between Medicare and Medicaid]."

So then why did he claim that he didn't? The most obvious explanation is that Romney was just trying to show voters that he is a regular person like the rest of them: someone who had to teach himself about the complexities of those government programs.

But the tactic may have only served to feed the predominant critique of his candidacy.

"So," asked DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse, "he was just pandering then?"