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Setting the record straight on the individual mandate June 26, 2012

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich repeatedly insists that most conservatives once supported an individual mandate for health insurance.

I beg to differ, Mr. Speaker. The Galen Institute, and I in particular, along with many other colleagues, including the CATO Institute, NEVER have supported an individual mandate.

One of the key responsibilities of think tanks is to think through public policy initiatives and analyze their likely impact before they become law. We advise lawmakers all the time about the likely consequences of their policy ideas to help them develop good policy and avoid mistakes.

We knew from the beginning that an individual mandate was an affront to our Constitutional liberties and that it would lead to government determining what kind of health insurance we must buy, huge taxpayer-funded subsidies to help people purchase the expensive new government-mandated coverage, invasions of our privacy so the government can find out if we are complying, and a slew of mandates and regulations.

Yet Newt insisted in the Iowa debate last year: “In 1993, in fighting HillaryCare, virtually every conservative saw the mandate as a less-dangerous future than what Hillary was trying to do.” Note to Newt: HillaryCare contained an individual mandate.

He continued: “After HillaryCare disappeared it became more and more obvious that mandates have all sorts of problems built into them … It’s now clear that the mandate, I think, is clearly unconstitutional. But, it started as a conservative effort to stop HillaryCare in the 1990s.”

No, Newt, most conservatives never have supported an individual mandate. We thought this through and saw exactly where it would lead.

Avik Roy of the Manhattan Institute had a terrific piece on National Review where he takes apart Newt’s defense. He’s quoting from an interview on Fox News between Greta Van Susteren and Newt after the Iowa exchange:

Van Susteren asked if Gingrich’s position had evolved. “So I’m sure I understand: So are you saying in 1993, that there was some sort of hybrid of mandate or whatever, it was supported by the Republican party? And now, that was in response to the Clinton administration. And now you’ve changed, is that it?”

Gingrich’s response was classic Newt. “No, no,” he said. [...] “I’m saying that you see a 20-second clip from 18 years ago, when you were fighting Hillarycare, and when virtually everybody in the conservative movement was united in trying to stop Hillarycare. Now, nobody at that time was talking about the Tenth Amendment. Nobody at that time was talking about these kind of constitutional issues. But to jump from that and say, ‘Gosh, if Newt said this in 1993, he must be for Obama’ — skipping, by the way, two-and-a-half years of active, consistent opposition to Obamacare? I mean, I think the kind of amnesia that Washington gets into is, frankly, silly.”

It’s unclear which is a worse indictment of Gingrich’s governing style. Is it worse that Gingrich, who was about to become second in line to the presidency, was ignorant of the obvious constitutional problems with the federal government’s forcing everyone to buy a private product? Or is it worse that Gingrich was willing to promote the adoption [of] an unconstitutional measure purely for the tactical reason of “trying to stop Hillarycare”? It’s as if Gingrich were to say, “Don’t believe anything I say when I’m trying to oppose a Democratic policy initiative. I’m not sincerely interested in providing an alternative solution, so trampling the Constitution to thwart Democrats is no big deal.”

We and many other colleagues in the free-market policy community saw the problems from the beginning and warned of the dangers of an individual mandate. Newt, as the historian in this race, should not be trying to rewrite history.