Romney isn’t the only Republican who paved the way for Obamacare.
In her opening remarks at the Western Republican Leadership Conference Debate, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann quipped, “And this is one night when I hope what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas.” The eventual Republican nominee will probably hope differently, but to no avail.
The Las Vegas debate featured a fascinating exchange, sure to come up in the general election, where GOP presidential candidates sparred over who was in favor of the government forcing people to buy health insurance first.
“So there’s a lot of big government behind Romneycare,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said in reference to Massachusetts’ state health care reform law. “Not as much as Obamacare, but a heck of a lot more than your campaign is admitting.”
“Actually, Newt, we got the idea of an individual mandate from you,” former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney replied in his rebuttal. “That’s not true,” Gingrich shot back. “You got it from the Heritage Foundation.”
“Yes, we got it from you,” Romney repeated, “and you got it from the Heritage Foundation and from you [sic].” “Wait a second,” Gingrich again corrected. “What you just said is not true. You did not get that from me. You got it from the Heritage Foundation.”
“And you never supported them?”
“I agree with them,” Gingrich conceded, “but I’m just saying, what you said to this audience just now plain wasn’t true.”
“OK,” Romney answered. “Let me ask, have you supported in the past an individual mandate?”
“I absolutely did,” Gingrich said, “with the Heritage Foundation against Hillarycare.”
To recap: two leading candidates to replace President Barack Obama, in an election that will be fought in part on the issue of repealing and replacing Obama’s health care plan, highlight their past support for the individual mandate and argue over who thought of it first. The individual mandate is one of the most unpopular provisions of Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It is also the most constitutionally dubious, which is why it has been the main focus of the multi-state legal challenge to Obamacare.
Not only did these two Republican presidential candidates emphasize their own history with the individual mandate. They also implicated the Clinton-era Republican congressional leadership and the country’s leading conservative think tank. Politically, this could make anti-Obamacare arguments seem more partisan than principled. Legally, it could undermine arguments that the individual mandate is outside the mainstream even for post-New Deal commerce clause jurisprudence.
It is true that neither the Heritage Foundation nor the Republican congressional leadership supported an individual mandate as unqualified as Obamacare’s. It is also the case that much of this support was tentative and relatively short-lived. Wall Street Journal editorial board member and TAS Presswatch columnist James Taranto was a public relations associate for Heritage when the mandate was being proposed. “Whatever the particular differences, the Heritage mandate was indistinguishable in principle from the ObamaCare one,” Taranto wrote this fall in his WSJ column. “In both cases, the federal government would force individuals to purchase a product from a private company—something that Congress has never done before.”
“What’s done is done” is an old cliché. But there is a larger problem at work here, illustrated by Gingrich’s offhand comment that he supported an individual mandate “against Hillarycare,” that puts Republicans on the defensive when it comes to health care reform. “Rather than make a prolonged case for health policy that does not involve endless expansion of entitlements and insurance subsidies,” observed Reason’s Peter Suderman, “the GOP has instead focused primarily on reacting to Democratic proposals.”
When Republicans wanted to block Hillary Clinton’s health care plan in 1993–94, with its dreaded employer mandate, they tried to achieve universal coverage on their own with an individual mandate. Liberal Republican Sen. John Chafee of Rhode Island, a disciple of Nelson Rockefeller, was Bob Dole’s point man for crafting a bill to preempt Hillarycare. Chafee’s proposal naturally contained an individual mandate. (It should be noted that many conservatives inside and outside Congress opposed the Dole-Chafee alternative as well.)
MITT ROMNEY was hardly the only Republican to join forces with Ted Kennedy on health care. In 1996, Kansas GOP Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum paired with the Massachusetts liberal (Kennedy, not Romney) to advance a bill that aimed at increasing the portability of health insurance between jobs and limiting insurer exclusions for preexisting conditions. The following year, Kennedy teamed up with Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch to create the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
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