For Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, the road to beating President Obama runs through public policy. Our April 2011 cover story. Read it now!
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“A lot of governors like me, before ObamaCare was ever even birthed, much less passed, I was advocating having a health insurance exchange in Mississippi based on a model that the Heritage Foundation shared with a number of states, and was adopted first by Utah,” he said. “Voluntary. No subsidies. Market-driven. Consumer-driven. Capitalistic. Nonprofit managed health insurance exchange, because my biggest group of uninsured are the employees of small business. If I had a voluntary unsubsidized health insurance exchange to serve as sort of their broker through a portal it would be very similar to the federal employee health benefit plan, so companies could buy through that and a) reduce their administrative costs and b) make sure that everything was tax deductible to the company, and c) make sure everything was tax deductible to the employee.”
Such an idea isn’t unique among Republicans — Sen. Tom Coburn and Rep. Paul Ryan proposed something similar as part of their own GOP alternative to the national health care law, and Ryan integrated it into his “Roadmap” fiscal reform proposal. However, there are several problems with the exchange idea. The first is that it would be a major concession to the liberal point of view, which holds that in the absence of government intervention, the market won’t function for individual insurance. The second is that, even if it starts out completely well intentioned, establishing an exchange puts the infrastructure in place that allows future lawmakers to incrementally build on it — adding requirements that insurers cover certain benefits, starting to offer subsidies to lower-income individuals to purchase insurance on the exchange, and so on. Before too long, such an exchange could end up just like the Romney/Obama model. I asked Barbour about this danger, and he dismissed it.
“Not only do I not worry about that as long as I’m governor, I don’t worry about that in Mississippi,” he responded. “You should know when Heritage came and made the presentations to us, they told us Massachusetts is going to make this mandatory and they’re going to subsidize it. Now that’s one way you can do it. But, we’re talking about something totally different. Voluntary. Unsubsidized. And no, I don’t worry about that at all. What I worry is that the federal government is going to force subsidies down our throats and they’re gonna increase the number of people on Medicaid in Mississippi by 50 percent and cost us $443 million a year to pay the extra cost of Medicaid because of it, which is what it would cost us in year 10.”
IN ITS 2010 Fiscal Policy Report Card for America’s governors, the Cato Institute gave Barbour a ‘C’ grade, noting he “signed into law a tax increase on hospitals in 2008 and a tax increase on cigarettes of 50 cents per pack in 2009.” It also criticized him for allowing general fund spending to grow 42 percent between fiscal year 2004 and fiscal year 2008, before the recession hit — while noting that he has since reduced spending. The same report gave Pawlenty an ‘A’ grade.
When asked about the tax increases, Barbour said that he repeatedly resisted attempts to raise the cigarette tax in his first term. Yet, he continued, “When I ran for reelection I said a lot of people want us to raise the cigarette tax for health care policy reasons, because we had the second lowest cigarette tax in the United States. And I said I’m going to appoint a commission the first year of my second term to look at this. The commission reported and I told the legislature the commission had recommended a cigarette tax increase, and I proposed we go from 18 cents to 42. The legislature actually ended up going to 60, which was the Southern states average. But again, I said 100 times during this, this is for health policy reasons, not for budget reasons.”
On the hospital tax, he said the Cato report was misleading, though he was quick to add, “I’m not mad at them.” He explained that before he was governor, hospitals had suggested that they pay a provider fee to cover the matching money that the states had to pay under federal programs. Yet in 2005, the federal government disallowed this arrangement. So eventually, the state instituted a tax to make up the lost revenue, which he signed.
That said, it takes much less time for political opponents to say Barbour “raised cigarette and hospital taxes” than it does for him to explain the complexities of state and federal health care financing, so this would be another criticism he’d face in a presidential campaign.
When I asked Barbour whether he thought it was possible to get the nation’s debt under control without raising taxes, he spoke like a supply-sider. “I don’t think it’s possible if you raise taxes,” he said. “You’ve got to grow revenue, you got to have economic growth, and more job creation. Higher taxes makes that harder….My own view is that low taxes are essential to generating economic growth. I am a Reaganite about that. Reagan used to say we can grow ourselves out of the deficit and the Democrats would snicker. Well, I can tell you this, we can’t spend ourselves out of this deficit. People laugh out loud at that. There’s no snickering about that. That’s a hoot.”
LAST YEAR, Mitch Daniels jeopardized his potential presidential candidacy when he suggested to the Weekly Standard’s Andrew Ferguson that there be a “truce” on social issues while the nation deals with the emergency of the fiscal crisis. His statement and subsequent attempts to explain it triggered a fierce backlash among social conservatives, and Barbour himself took heat when he rose to his friend’s defense.
Throughout his political career, Barbour has drawn a distinction between his own views on social issues and their place in electoral politics. As governor of Mississippi, he’s signed a number of pro-life bills, including an informed consent law and conscience protections. There’s only one abortion clinic left in Mississippi, according to Americans United for Life, which reports a 60 percent reduction in the state abortion rate over the last several years. Yet at the same time, Barbour has deemphasized abortion as a major electoral issue. After winning the chairmanship of the RNC in January 1993, according to a New York Times account, he told reporters, “If you make abortion the threshold issue for Republicans, you need your heads examined.” In June 2009, he gave a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, in which he said the party needed to be welcoming to pro-choice Republicans. I asked him about the distinction he’s drawn.
“The distinction is the distinction of spokesmanship,” he explained. “When I speak about my record, it is a socially conservative record. I am very pro-life and have been consistently pro-life since [first running for office in] 1982….Having said that, elections ought to be about the issues that on are on the voters’ minds. If you’re smart in politics you want to be telling the people, ‘Here’s what I want to do to solve the problem that you’re really worried about.’ That’s what I think Mitch was saying. Not that there should be a ‘truce’ because we want to push this issue under the rug, but that we ought to run our campaigns based on these really important issues because these issues unite Republicans, hurt Democrats, and the independents agree with us by 2 to 1. If the idea of elections is to win, which it is, that’s just good political sense. So, if I’m talking as the RGA chairman, or the party chairman, or as somebody who’s just discussing how can we do the main thing — that is, elect a Republican president — Mitch is right, make the campaign about the issues that the public has foremost on their minds. Show them how we’re going to solve those problems. And let them see that they agree with us. It’s as simple as that. Politics is about addition and multiplication. It is not about subtraction and division. Purity is a loser in politics, unity is a winner in politics.”
He struck a similar tone when I asked him about gay marriage. He said he was opposed to it, and criticized President Obama’s decision not to defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. Yet in the midst of explaining his position, he added, “The main thing we Republicans have to remember is to be tolerant of people who disagree with us.”
On immigration, Barbour is at odds with conservatives who seek harsher measures to combat those who are already here illegally. “After we get the border secured, only after we get the border secured, we need to talk about what is our policy gonna be on guest workers?” he said. “What’s our policy gonna be on H1B visas? What’s our policy gonna be on a lot of things that should be directed by the fact that we’ve got a labor shortage in this country over a period of time.”
WHEN IT COMES TO foreign policy, Barbour is reluctant to criticize President Obama. “I’m an open market, free trade, Reagan internationalist who believes in peace through strength, but I also come from the political school that in foreign policy and national security, politics all stop at the water’s edge,” he said. “Always believed that. I’m not going to shoot at the Obama administration about who lost Egypt. But I do think this — we have a place in the world and it’s a very important place in the world that we need to perform our role as the beacon of freedom, democracy, and republican form of government. I think that’s critically important.”
Yet he cautioned, “I worry about nation-building. It is one thing to go in for peacekeeping and restore order and stability and then leave, or leave a small force. I’m not comfortable with nation-building. I wasn’t when it was in Somalia. When I was chairman of the party though, you will see I never criticized Clinton, because I don’t think party chairmen in particular have any business talking about foreign policy.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online