Romney walks back apparent compliment of Obamacare

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Story highlights

  • Romney said Obamacare wouldn't have come about if not for his push to expand access to health insurance in Massachusetts
  • He credited Tom Stemberg, the co-founder of Staples who died Friday, with encouraging him to help more people get health insurance

Washington (CNN)Mitt Romney stirred up a controversy Friday after he appeared to praise Obamacare, the law he pledged to repeal when he ran for president in 2012, before later walking back his comments.

The 2012 GOP presidential nominee had told The Boston Globe earlier in the day that Obamacare wouldn't have come about if he hadn't pushed to expand health care in his state when he was governor of Massachusetts. He credited Tom Stemberg, the co-founder of Staples who died Friday, with encouraging him to help more people get health insurance, leading to legislation which eventually became known as Romneycare.
"Without Tom pushing it, I don't think we would have had Romneycare," Romney said in an obituary of Stemberg, a friend and political backer.
    "Without Romneycare, I don't think we would have Obamacare. So, without Tom a lot of people wouldn't have health insurance," Romney continued.
    The comment turned heads because of Romney's oft-stated opposition to the federal law.
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    Romney's critics have noted both laws included the so-called individual mandate, a requirement that people obtain health insurance or be penalized. And Obama administration officials said they used the 2006 Massachusetts law as a model when crafting the federal law that Obama signed four years later. The President even invoked the comparison on the campaign trail.
    "The guy I'm running against tried this in Massachusetts and it's working just fine," Obama told supporters in 2012.
    But Romney maintained throughout the campaign that the Massachusetts law addressed unique issues in his state and was a compromise between himself and the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature. Romney said Obamacare was both bad policy and politics on the federal level and advocated for allowing states to develop their own solutions.
    He reiterated that in a statement he released through a spokeswoman Friday afternoon.
    "(Obamacare) drove up premiums, took insurance away from people who were promised otherwise, and usurped state programs. As I said in the campaign, I'd repeal it and replace it with state-crafted plans," Romney said.
    As for his comment about his friend, Romney said, "Getting people health insurance is a good thing, and that's what Tom Stemberg fought for."