Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 18, 2011

THE REPUBLICAN IDEA THAT REPUBLICANS HATE.... This morning, Brian Beutler ran an item emphasizing a point I've published so many times, I suspect readers are sick of seeing it: the individual mandate in health care reform enjoyed broad, bipartisan support until the GOP reversed course in 2009.

Brian notes that the mandate idea was "once a popular, if not consensus, policy framework on the right," abandoned by Republican after President Obama said he agreed with the Republican idea. Sticking up for the GOP is Philip Klein at the American Spectator, who makes the case that the "consensus" was "imaginary."

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.

Klein's post is not outrageous on its face, and some of the argument hinges on how one defines "the right." But I'd argue that Klein's version of recent history on the policy is incomplete. Whether "the right" was broadly supportive of the idea, the Republican Party threw its support behind the mandate decades ago.

Nixon embraced it in the 1970s, and George H.W. Bush supported the idea in the 1980s. When Dole endorsed the mandate in 1994, it was in keeping with the party's prevailing attitudes at the time. Romney embraced the mandate as governor and it was largely ignored during the '08 campaign. This didn't stop Romney from gaining plenty of conservative support, including an endorsement from the Weekly Standard.

But, Klein might argue, Nixon, Dole, H.W. Bush, and Romney (at least the previous version) aren't considered conservative by the standards of contemporary conservatism. Fair enough. But the mandate has also been embraced by the likes of John McCain, Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Bob Bennett, Tommy Thompson, Lamar Alexander, Lindsey Graham, John Thune, Scott Brown, and Judd Gregg, among others. Indeed, several of them not only endorsed the policy, they literally co-sponsored legislation that included the mandate. Are they all RINOs?

During the fight over Obama's reform proposal, Grassley told Fox News, of all outlets, "I believe that there is a bipartisan consensus to have an individual mandate" -- and there was no pushback from party leaders. This isn't ancient history; it was a year and a half ago.

I realize it's inconvenient now -- the individual mandate has become the key argument against the Affordable Care Act on the right -- but the history of Republican support of the idea they now hate is incontrovertible.

Steve Benen 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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I would like to point out that "killing jobs" was originally a Republican idea as well.

Still is.

Posted by: chrenson on January 18, 2011 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder just how many of our Republican leaders and thinkers were dine and dashers in their earlier lives? -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on January 18, 2011 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

Here's the way I always felt the health care debate played out.

Republicans stuck in there long enough in the finance committee to get the policies they wanted in there then all bailed and publicly turned against the plan.

See, the GOP got the best of both worlds. Their cost cutting techniques AND they got to play politics against it.

win/win for them. Yeah, they outplayed the Dems on it.

Posted by: mikefromArlington on January 18, 2011 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

"The mandate" wasn't a republican idea, it was a Republican DODGE. When Democrats brought up single payer or the like, Republicans would bring out their mandate. The mandate is the stupidest of reasonable options, and the Republican party -- the OLD Republican party -- wanted to seem reasonable. The NEW Republican Party has no such desire.

Posted by: inkadu on January 18, 2011 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

We have always been at war with Eurasia the individual mandate!

Posted by: Michael Scott on January 18, 2011 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK
who makes the case that the "consensus" was "imaginary."

Of course it was. I'm willing to believe that Nixon, Bush the Elder, and Romney were actually sincere, the broad consensus only existed as long as the policy had no chance of being enacted. Like so many conservative "policies", it existed so they could claim they had something better than what liberals were advocating, to justify their opposition to it, while hiding their real but unpopular position that government shouldn't do anything at all to help people.

Posted by: Redshift on January 18, 2011 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

There you go again with your silly "facts" and "logic" and all that elitist professor stuff.

Gosh darn it, when are you libruls gonna learn the difference between now and then, right and wrong, good and bad?

Everybody agrees it's a bad idea to make people buy things they don't want to buy. You should just stop all your whinin' and Washington economist talk, and listen to what REAL Americans think, who get up every morning and go to work before the sun comes up at their honest jobs supportin' families and payin' too much in taxes already blah blah heartland blah flag liberty freedom blah...

Posted by: bleh on January 18, 2011 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

I see HTML code only works on occasion -- "Eurasia" was supposed to be crossed out . . .

Posted by: Michael Scott on January 18, 2011 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

"No true Scotsman . . ."

Posted by: rea on January 18, 2011 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

Prior to 1204 the Byzantines reduced their army and navy spending although not because of a budget deficit.  This allowed the fourth crusade, diverted from going to Egypt by the Venitian Doge, to conquer Constantinople with the result that the Byzantine Empire was run for 50+ years by Roman Catholic Crusaders, stripped of treasure, and left gutted to limp along until the Turks mercifully finished it off in the middle of 15th century.

While, I am not suggesting that we are in exactly the same positions as the Byzantines at the beginning of the 13th Century, I think cuts for the sake of cuts to prove a philosophical point is foolish.

This example also applies to AZ Governor Jan Brewer's proposal to remove 280,000 people from Arizona's version of Medicaid to help balance the State's budget.  Like the cuts which preceded the takeover of Constantinople in 1204, the Byzantines were blind to the consequences, these EPIC CUTS can only result in disaster for Arizona and ultimately the nation.

Specifically they have the immediate effect of denying people who have long term medical needs such as those with AIDS or diabetes medicine.  Long term effects will probably include an increase in infectious diseases as poor people do not get treated for their illnesses or resort to home remedies and partial treatments borrowed from friends and relatives.

See http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/opinions/articles/2011/01/15/20110115sat1-15.html

Posted by: KurtRex1453 on January 18, 2011 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

So the ACA is fundamentally based on a 30-year-old Republican proposal designed to entrench the for-profit insurance corporations as the foundation of America's health care system and guarantee their profits at the taxpayers' expense.

Of course, only a few months ago when Steven Benen was proclaiming the ACA to be the equivalent of Social Security, Medicare, the New Deal, the Great Society and the Civil Rights Act all rolled into one, anyone who wrote such a thing in these comment pages was excoriated as a fool and a traitor.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 18, 2011 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

"i>Long term effects will probably include an increase in infectious diseases..."
-- KurtRex1453 on January 18, 2011 at 3:17 PM

Well sure.
But as long as it's not Socialist Gummint Death Panels, but the sacred Invisible Hand of the holy Free Market, that determines who lives and who dies, it's as it should be.
Remember the [in]famous letter-to-the-editor of the New York Times in which a young Ayn Rand acolyte named Alan Greenspan indicated that "[p]arasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should."
God wills it!

Posted by: smartalek on January 18, 2011 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

Beneath all this, from the conservative point of view, is that we are spending a lot more than we are taking in. This should be intolerable to any thinking man.

Posted by: Dragon on February 9, 2011 at 7:52 AM | PERMALINK
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