Newt Gingrich was for the individual mandate for health insurance before he was against it -– that was the impression given Monday in a John Kerry-esque video that the former House Speaker’s campaign staff hurriedly released to quell a firestorm of criticism about comments he made Sunday on "Meet the Press."
During that appearance, Gingrich told NBC’s David Gregory he still backed a requirement that every citizen purchase health insurance or post a bond for insurance. The stipulation that every citizen must purchase health insurance or pay a penalty is a core provision of the Obamacare health care plan.
Gingrich also sharply attacked GOP Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to rein in entitlements. Gingrich called Ryan’s plan “radical” and an example of “right-wing social engineering.”
Since then, Gingrich has tried to modify his attack on Ryan’s plan, as well as his support for the individual mandate.
In the campaign video released today, Gingrich insists: “I am completely opposed to the Obamacare mandate on individuals. I fought it for two and a half years at the Center for Health Transformation.
“You can see all the things we did to stop it at HealthTransformation.net. I am for the repeal of Obamacare. I’m against any effort to impose a federal mandate on anyone, because it is fundamentally wrong, and I believe, unconstitutional.”
But some analysts say Gingrich appears to be parsing words. In his new statement, Gingrich says he opposes a “federal mandate” requiring individuals to buy health insurance, but leaves the door wide open for states to impose such mandates.
In previous comments about mandates, Gingrich did not stress any distinction between a federal and state mandated program. In an email sent to the former House Speaker, Newsmax posed seven detailed questions, including how Gingrich would require every citizen in the United States to get health insurance or post a bond, if he didn’t enforce the mandate at the federal level.
Although Gingrich offered no specific responses to the questions submitted, his press secretary, Rick Tyler, stated in his e-mail reply: “Newt is one of the most vocal critics against Obamacare and has called for its full repeal. He is also against a federal individual mandate.”
And a review of Gingrich’s statements, articles, and websites shows that, contrary to the tenor of his video, he has not been consistently forceful in his criticism of Obama’s insurance mandate.
Posted on the HealthTransformation.net site Gingrich references is a 2007 op-ed he penned for the Des Moines Register, which states: “Citizens should not be able to cheat their neighbors by not buying insurance, particularly when they can afford it, and expect others to pay for their care when they need it.
“However, an individual mandate must take one’s income into account, and more importantly, it is an acceptable option only when the larger healthcare system has been fundamentally changed. It is unjust to require an individual to buy into a broken and dysfunctional system.”
Many conservatives aren’t pleased with Gingrich’s nuanced position. The influential American Spectator blog headlined Monday that “Gingrich, Romney Implode on Healthcare.”
The Spectator editorial read: “Incredibly, Gingrich went on Meet the Press to declare his liberal/statist Republican credentials by saying: ‘I am for people, individuals -- exactly like automobile insurance -- individuals having health insurance and being required to have health insurance.’
“To which one can only ask, astonished of a man reputed to be a conservative: While every American is born with their health, which of us is born with a car?”
Conservative MSNBC commentator Patrick J. Buchanan, who served as a White House adviser to presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan, said on the Morning Joe program that Gingrich’s remarks meant “writing off today 75 percent of the Republican Party, which has as a major issue overturning that in the Supreme Court.”
In an e-mail to Newsmax on Monday, Buchanan added that by rebuking Rep. Ryan’s Medicare reforms, Gingrich had “trashed the entire Republican majority in the House that voted for it.”
Clearly, Gingrich also has advocated for the government to offer subsidies or vouchers under his program for those who can’t afford mandated insurance. Gingrich has been mum as to who will pay for such a subsidy program.
According to the Heritage Foundation, the subsidies to the uninsured for health care coverage are the most expensive single component of Obamacare, and will cost over $460 billion by 2019.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax.TV on Monday, pollster Scott Rasmussen tells Newsmax that expressing support for the individual mandate would be enough to remove Gingrich from consideration for the GOP nomination, as far as conservatives are concerned.
The political impact of Gingrich’s opposition to the Ryan plan is less certain, he says, because many Republican voters are squeamish issuing vouchers to seniors so they can purchase insurance on the open market.
“So it’s not as disqualifying,” Rasmussen says. “But he’s sure not looking like a team player. He’s challenging them just as they’re trying to re-introduce this topic. I don’t know quite what Speaker Gingrich is doing with this one. [Former Mass. Gov.] Mitt Romney, you have an understanding why he was trying what he did. But Speaker Gingrich, [I’m] not sure what he gains from yesterday’s comments.”
Author, Democratic pollster, and Fox News commentator Doug Schoen voices similar concerns.
“I don't get Newt's strategy,” he tells Newsmax. “He is a man of towering intellect and ability, to be sure. But he doesn't appear to have a clear plan or strategy to win the nomination.”
Huffington Post correspondent Sam Stein recently wrote that Gingrich, over a long period of time, “has been a vocal champion for mandated insurance coverage.” Among the examples he cited:
• Gingrich teamed up with then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., in 2005 to promote a bipartisan solution to spiraling healthcare costs. A July 2005 Hotline article reported that Gingrich supported not only the state-level mandates that have complicated former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s electoral plans, but also “some federal mandates” as well.
• According to Stein, the Detroit Free Press reported that Gingrich, in an April 2006 speech to the Greater Detroit Area Health Council’s Health Trends Conference, supported requiring American’s above a certain income level to buy health insurance or post a bond.
• And in his 2008 book Real Change, the former Speaker of the House wrote: “Finally, we should insist that everyone above a certain level buy coverage (or, if they are opposed to insurance, post a bond). Meanwhile, we should provide tax credits or subsidize private insurance for the poor.”
Critics say that in apparently supporting a non-federal variation of the individual mandate, Gingrich wants it both ways: He opposes Obamacare and has called on Congress to defund it, but supports a variation of the individual mandate that is so critical to the functioning of Obamacare that one federal judge declared the entire bill null and void, after determining the individual mandate was unconstitutional.
Even some Democrats have conceded that without the individual mandate on a federal level, the rest of the president’s healthcare reform legislation just doesn’t work.
University of Virginia Center for Politics director and author Dr. Larry Sabato tells Newsmax that Gingrich’s criticism of the Ryan plan suggests he is tacking to the middle on Medicare, a move that might make sense if Gingrich had already captured the GOP nomination.
“But Gingrich has a steep uphill climb to the nomination,” Sabato tells Newsmax. “Separating himself from the Ryan plan, which was backed by all but a handful of the Republican House members and appears to be supported by the GOP activist base, doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense. Moreover, Gingrich appeared to endorse the Ryan plan earlier, so now a flip-flopping charge is larded on top of the other problems.”
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