Singling out a 2009 quote from Sen. Chuck Grassley in support of a mandate to purchase health insurance, Talking Point Memo’s Brian Beutler tries to push the narrative that requiring the purchase of health insurance was “once a popular, if not consensus, policy framework on the right” — only to become politically toxic when it came to opposing President Obama.
There’s no doubting the fact that the Heritage Foundation supported the idea, as well as some Republicans — Beutler cites John Chafee, Bob Dole, and Mitt Romney — but that simply is not indicative of how “the right” broadly thought about health care. Chaffee was known as the ultimate RINO before passing the torch to his son. Dole was viewed by the right as a Washington insider who was too eager to compromise with Democrats, with the early years of the Clinton presidency as a possible exception. None of the Republicans running for president in 2008 included a mandate in their health care proposals — even Mitt Romney, who defended state-based mandates, was wishy-washy about whether he supported one at the national level. Romney spent most of the 2008 campaign running away from his health care plan in Massachusetts. When he did defend his support for mandates, he was harshly rebuked by his opponents, as in this exchange with Fred Thompson.
For all the talk of the mandate being a consensus position, George W. Bush did not run on it in 2000 or 2004, nor did he push it as president. If this was so popular among the right, why wasn’t there an effort to make a mandate law when the GOP controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress? The reality is that while you can find individual examples of Republicans or think tankers who once supported a mandate, it was nothing close to a popular, consensus position among conservatives.
There’s no doubt that conservative opposition to the mandate became more passionate in 2009 — and that Republicans like Sens. Orrin Hatch and Grassley moved away from from their prior positions. But that has more to do with the fact that the mandate migrated from being part of a debate dominated by health care policy wonks to an idea that had a realistic chance of actually becoming law, and thus part of our national conversation. I would remind readers that there’s plenty of hypocrisy to go around on this issue, as Obama opposed the mandate during his own campaign.