Is Newt Much Better on the Question of Mandates?

Spoiler: Not Really

Yesterday I wrote an article on why I view the inevitability of an Obama defeat at the hands of Romney to be less than inevitable.  Mostly I attributed this to weakness on a core issue: Obamacare.  From my view, Romney cannot adequately take on this topic so long as he insists on defending the principles put forth in Romneycare.

His state’s rights position plays ok with the base, but I believe it will be less than compelling to the general electorate when it comes time to decide what separates Obama & Romney on this issue.

In passing, I mentioned that Gingrich, who previously supported the mandate as well, has since determined that he was wrong and will take that to his debates with Obama should he win the nomination.  I based that on this exchange which took place in the South Carolina debate earlier this month:

For the video impaired, Santorum attacked Newt on his support of mandates and questioned his ability to truly stand up to Obama on this issue of healthcare reform, to which Newt responded:

“Of course you can. I’d say, you know, I was wrong and I figured it out.  You were wrong and you didn’t.”

Santorum quickly pointed out that after holding the position strongly for over 10 years, it may not fly in the debates.

When I witnessed this exchange, I decided that Newt had done an adequate enough job of acknowledging that he’d made a mistake and that overall, I was satisfied.

That was before I saw a video at Verum Serum.


The real foundation, the most important, uh, part of this is individual rights, responsibilities, and expectation of behavior.

Uh, we believe that there should be must-carry, that everyone should have health insurance, or if you’re absolute, uh, libertarian we would allow you to post a bond.  But we would not allow people to, uh, be free riders failing to ensure themselves and then showing up in the emergency room, uh, with no means of payment.   Uh, if you have, uh, must carry, then the insurance companies have told us that we can have must-issue and you will therefore have a system in which you don’t have to worry about cherry picking and maneuvering.  As we move beyond today’s press conference, this is kind of general model we’re going to be advocating…

Now as I said, I’m not surprised by the fact that he supported the mandate.  This was known before he ever announced his bid.  What I didn’t realize was that his support of it went well beyond mere theoretical and into the realm of advocacy.

This wasn’t a press conference discussing random possibilities.  This was a press conference specifically discussing the health care bill that was being debated at that moment which ultimately became the monstrosity known as Obamacare.

I can see a couple of responses from the Newt campaign.  One would be “Hey, this was May 2009.  By March 2010 when the bill passed, it was much different!”

They’d be right. It was much different by March.  It was better.  Back in May of ’09 the public option was still on the table and gov’t funded abortions were still lacking an executive order to prevent them (which of course it really doesn’t prevent but I digress).

Another would be, “Yes, he supported the mandate, but he didn’t write something incredibly similar into law like Romney did!”

Also true.  But in my mind, Gingrich may have done something equal if not worse, unless I’ve completely misunderstood what the word “advocate” means.

But enough of my theorizing, I reached out to his campaign and politely said “WHAT THE HELL???”

To their credit, they responded by pointing me in two directions.  One was to this video excerpt from Fox News Special Report with Bret Baier in which Newt & the panel were discussing one of the debate moments in November:

BRET BAIER: There was a moment in the debate where you had an exchange with Mitt Romney and you said that his Massachusetts healthcare plan was far more big government than he talks about.  Then he said ‘well we got the mandate idea from you.’ Then you said ‘well this is…you got it from Heritage and you.’  and you said ‘well yes.’  What is your stance on the mandate and … clear that up.

NEWT GINGRICH: Look, Heritage Foundation and most conservatives including me, during the period of the fight over Hillarycare, accepted the idea of a mandate.  And, gradually virtually everybody came to the conclusion that a mandate doesn’t work in part because it means more and more and more government definition of what are you mandating.  Which is exactly the point I was making the other night with Mitt.  Now, my answer to Mitt would be ‘ok, I may once have advocated, I concluded I was wrong.’  Why hasn’t he concluded he was wrong?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: In concluding you were wrong, was it on the grounds that it’s bad policy? Or that it’s unconstitutional?

GINGRICH: Well I’m not a constitutional lawyer but I believe that it is unconstitutional for the Congress to require you to buy something (crosstalk).  Because the… then the Congress could require you to do anything.

KRAUTHAMMER: So you’re saying that in principle it was a terrible idea.  Even if as policy it might work.


BAIER: And that’s a change for you?

GINGRICH: That is a change.  There’s no question.  That’s a change for the Heritage Foundation. A lot of us…in ’93 as opposed to Hillarycare thought that was the less destructive alternative.  The longer we dealt with it the more we concluded it was hopeless.

This laying out of the facts just doesn’t seem to jive with how things turned out.  Clearly Speaker Gingrich supported mandates well beyond the time that Hillarycare was being debated, and furthermore, it wasn’t simply a “we can’t think of anything else” if you listen to what he said in the ’09 video.  This was a well thought out and reasoned position that he said he not only believed had to happen but would be advocating for as the bill that would eventually become Obamacare was being debated.

Note also the question Krauthammer asked. “In concluding you were wrong, was it on the grounds that it’s bad policy? Or that it’s unconstitutional?” This is the question I’ve been saying will be asked in the generals and for which neither Newt nor Romney has a good answer.

Their objections about constitutionality and process leave room for the idea that in theory, they still like the whole idea and want states to do it. All of them. This is not going to be a compelling argument against Obamacare: “Vote for me! I’m the guy that wants 50 separate versions of Obamacare instead of just one!”

Yet continually, this question is glazed over quickly by supporters of Romney (and now potentially Gingrich) who wish to act as though screaming “FEDERALISM!!!” at the top of their lungs will somehow trump the fact that they don’t seem too far off from Obama in practice, rather just different in process.

The campaign also sent me this bit in Newt’s defense from Legal Insurrection who claims that the ’09 support of mandates was not support of the mandates that exist in the final form of Obamacare.

The blog Verum Serum claims to have found an audio recording showing that Newt Gingrich supported Obama’s federal mandate, in a post titled Gingrich Called for ObamaCare Mandate in May 2009….

Breitbart TV picked up on that theme, asserting “this is the first example of Gingrich specifically endorsing President Barack Obama’s federally mandated version which many conservatives believe is unconstitutional and Gingrich has described as “clearly unconstitutional.”

This is wrong.  I have listened to the entire audio recording, and Newt does not endorse the Obamacare mandate, in part because the speech took place before even the earliest draft of Obamacare had been proposed.

The actual discussion in the recording is nothing new, listen for yourself, it shows Newt saying what he has said before about not allowing free riders at hospitals including either having insurance or showing that you have the ability to pay.  You can like it or not, but it’s not new or news, as Verum Serum acknowledges in its post.

The recording does not support the conclusion that Newt supported Obama’s federal mandate, which uses the police powers of the state to force people to buy insurance or face penalties.

At the time of Newt’s presentation, in May 2009, the earliest versions of Obamacare had not yet been released.  Newt specifically notes that the details of what would be proposed were unknown and (at 27:00) the process was still in the “wish list press conference stage.”

I think I covered this above.  I’ll grant you that everything was theoretical at the time and not in true bill form, but we certainly knew that the public option was on the table.  And LI may be right that the mandates were not under discussion, but isn’t that worse?

After all, in 2008, Barack Obama himself made it clear he was against mandates:

As LI noted, the ultimate form of Obamacare wasn’t under discussion in May of ’09. There were rumblings that something involving mandates might be coming, sure. Even Obama mentioned the concept as early as June 2009. But the specific mandate that Gingrich discussed was one which would allow you to choose not to participate by posting a bond or paying a fee? The only person as of May 2009 that I can find really talking about that specific type of mandate was … um… Gingrich! So I can only conclude that Obama was convinced that mandates were the right answer.  By who? I guess an advocate.  Know any Newt?  Oh that’s right.  You called yourself an advocate for the mandate, so I guess that answers that question.

Now the Romney fans are piddling all over themselves with joy to catch Gingrich supporting policies that he attacks Romney for.  They think it’s just going to be curtains for his campaign that he’s on record supporting things while simultaneously trying to destroy Romney for it.

I wish I could smack them all on the head.  What the hell do you think will happen to Romney when he tries to do the same thing?

I’ve got a request in with Newt’s campaign for a more substantial response to this issue and if I get one, I’ll update this post with it.

If we’re going to have a good candidate, these issues which could mire them in the generals, must be flushed out and must be talked about.  I’ve already publicly acknowledged that my favorite candidate among the remaining 4 is Newt Gingrich.  I’ve even gone on record as saying that if we are going to lose, I’d rather lose with Newt because at least it will be an honest campaign and Newt will go down fighting harder than anyone else on that stage.

However, if he can’t provide a better and more substantive answer as to why this wouldn’t be a problem, then we are going to have trouble with a Newt nominee.

The answer here, for Newt & Romney, is to provide true analysis of the mistake.  A real answer as to what changed and what is going to be better.  We aren’t going to win if either of these two guys gets the nomination and gives the kind of half-assed answers they’ve been giving on this question.

Cross-Posted at BenHoweShow.com

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