SCRANTON, Pa. — Some old political habits die hard. And so it was that President Obama went off-script on the last day of his college affordability bus tour here Friday to prod Mitt Romney over health care.
Obamacare “used to be a Republican idea,” Obama said. “There was a governor in Massachusetts set it up. It’s working really well.”
It was an ironic moment considering the circumstances, an appearance with Vice President Biden in a state that both presidential campaigns briefly treated as in play in the final days of the 2012 election. Political observers viewed the event as a possible first appearance of a 2016 bid by Biden, so the reminder of a presidential campaign moment gone by was especially delicious to the national press corps gathered here.
But Obama wasn’t really falling back into old habits — he was using the veiled swipe at Romney to reiterate the point he’s been trying to make throughout this trip: that Republicans are offering near-blanket opposition to his policy proposals because they’re trying to score political points. The president spent Thursday and Friday pitching education reform ideas the White House is convinced should carry bipartisan support, but there weren’t expectations from anyone — Obama included — that Republicans in Congress would join him in a national discussion about the way the federal government interacts with the higher education system.
The reference to Romney, which seemed to come off the top of Obama’s head, came in response to audible groans when Obama mentioned some of his proposed college reforms would require action by Congress. He mentioned Romney as a way to say he understood the audience’s skepticism.
“So yesterday I announced some new reforms to shake up the system,” Obama said. “Some will require action from Congress that will…” That’s where the groans came in, and Obama went off the familiar script he’s been using for two days.
“You know, that’s always challenging, but these are ideas that should have bipartisan support,” Obama said before catching a case of cynicism. “Of course, so should ‘Obamacare.’ It’s actually a really good idea. It’s going to work. Used to be a Republican idea. There was a governor in Massachusetts set it up. It’s working really well.”
After the laughter died down, Obama promised he wasn’t relying on Congress to get the job done.
“Some of the reforms we’re proposing,” Obama said, “we can make on our own.”