Obama talks up 'RomneyCare' amid GOP criticism of plan

President Obama pointedly praised on Monday the healthcare program Republican Mitt Romney installed as governor of Massachusetts.

Obama singled out Romney for praise over his state's healthcare plan, which shares similarities with the president's national healthcare reform, in a bit of backhanded praise for the likely Republican presidential candidate.

"I agree with Mitt Romney, who's recently said he's proud of what he accomplished in Massachusetts," Obama said at a gathering of governors at the White House.

The comment is a kind of kiss of death for Obama's would-be foe in 2012. Romney has sought to defend his reforms from criticism from possible GOP primary opponents. Already, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) has taken on "RomneyCare," though Huckabee said Sunday that it shouldn't disqualify Romney from the Republican nomination. 

Romney has wrestled with how to present a defense of his plan to potential primary voters. He's said that, given the chance, he might not pursue all of the same reforms, and last week his spokesman said that Romney was proud of having made an attempt at healthcare reform.

Obama's comment was undoubtedly political; reporters immediately picked up on the 2012 implications of the president's praise of Romney for having been willing to seek innovative solutions on healthcare. Romney is considered one of the top contenders to emerge from the Republican primary, and eventually secure the nomination to challenge Obama in the general election.

It's not the first time that Obama has sought to make a possible Republican rival in 2012 uncomfortable by cozying up to him. Obama praised his ambassador to China, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R), in January, joking that Huntaman's service in this administration would be an asset in a Republican primary. Huntsman is now considering running for president.