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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Rubio Misfires on Crist’s Health Care Shift

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s position on the new federal health care law has shifted, but not as much as Marco Rubio’s latest ad says.

In the highly competitive race for the U.S. Senate, Rubio — the presumptive GOP nominee — released an ad July 22 titled “The People,” which claims: “Charlie Crist now says he supports Obamacare.” That’s not true.

The Rubio campaign cites a July 20 Wall Street Journal article describing how Crist has tempered his positions since deciding to drop out of the Republican primary and run in the general election as an independent. "Despite pledging as a Republican to help repeal President Obama’s health-care overhaul, Mr. Crist now says he does not support such a move,” the paper says.

That’s all the Journal article says about Crist’s position on the repeal of health care. In addition to its article, the Journal listed some of Crist’s statements on issues before and after he bolted the party. Here is the one on health care:

THEN: "Once in the U.S. Senate, I will fight to repeal this government takeover of health care." — Crist statement, March 23, 2010
NOW: "It should be modified,” a stance short of repeal. — Wall Street Journal interview, July 14, 2010

Crist does not directly say in either case that he opposes repeal of the health care law. Even if he did, the fact that a candidate does not support repeal does not mean he supports the law. That’s a flawed argument that we have written about before in the special election to fill the House seat left vacant after the death of Rep. John Murtha. In that case, the Democratic candidate, Mark Critz, said he opposed the law and would seek to "fix" it. Crist is taking a similar — but not identical — position.

The Crist campaign tells us that the governor, if elected senator, would vote to repeal the bill only if there is a suitable replacement. In an e-mail to us, the campaign explained Crist’s position on the bill.

Crist campaign, July 26: The Obama health care bill was too big, too expensive, and expanded the role of government far too much. Had I been in the United States Senate at the time, I would have voted against the bill because of unacceptable provisions like the cuts to the Medicare Advantage program. But being an independent, I have the freedom to be an honest broker for the people of Florida without regard for political party, and the reality is this: despite its serious flaws, the Obama health care bill does have some positive aspects.

Repeal must be accompanied by a responsible substitute — repeal without passage of a substitute law protecting those with pre-existing conditions, closing the prescription drug donut hole for seniors, and allowing parents to keep their children on their insurance coverage until age 26 would be wrong.

There is no question that Crist’s position is more nuanced. During a Republican primary debate in March, when he was a candidate for the party’s nomination, Crist flatly declared: "I think what we need to do is go ahead and repeal this thing. Let’s start over." Now, he says that "repeal must be accompanied by a responsible substitute." He even says that "the Obama health care bill does have some positive aspects."

A shift in position? Yes. However, that doesn’t mean that he has done a complete reversal and now "supports" the law.

— by Michael Morse