Ezra Klein blogs that he was able to confirm that Barack Obama’s health care plan, which we’ll get a preview of in his budget on Thursday, will include (or at least allow for) an individual mandate requiring all Americans to obtain health insurance. As I have written repeatedly, and as recently as last week in this space, President Obama’s vision for health care reform made a mandate inevitable, no matter what he said during the campaign. If Ezra is right and Obama does give way on this point, it would represent his largest reversal to date, as this was one of the few actual policy differences he had with Hillary Clinton during the primaries. For those of us who sat through all of their 20 or so debates and watched this issue get hashed out over and over again, this is a pretty major development. Adopting a mandate will make it a lot more difficult for Obama to argue that he isn’t pursuing a government takeover of health care, and he’ll have a hard time explaining away his stunning flip flop. This wasn’t one of those issues where Obama made a convoluted statement that could be interepreted multiple ways, he was absolutely unequivocal.
Take, for instance, this exchange from the Austin, Texas debate last February. Clinton tells Obama that there’s no way he can achieve universal health care without a mandate, and Obama offers a pointed criticism of the concept of a mandate in response. This was just based on a quick search on my part. There’s plenty, plenty, more where this came from.
Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:
SEN. OBAMA: Number one, understand that when Senator Clinton says a mandate, it’s not a mandate on government to provide health insurance; it’s a mandate on individuals to purchase it. And Senator Clinton is right; we have to find out what works.
Now, Massachusetts has a mandate right now. They have exempted 20 percent of the uninsured because they’ve concluded that that 20 percent can’t afford it. In some cases, there are people who are paying fines and still can’t afford it, so now they’re worse off than they were. They don’t have health insurance and they’re paying a fine. (Applause.) And in order for you to force people to get health insurance, you’ve got to have a very harsh, stiff penalty. And Senator Clinton has said that we will go after their wages.
Here’s the video. The relevant part starts around the two minute mark: