The GOP appears to be making at least some headway in its fight to retake Congress riding a wave of public discontent with Obamacare, Save Jerseyans, but there’s a huge lingering but under-acknowledged problem:
Leading Republicans championed the idea for many, many years.
Most of you have probably heard this claim from a Democrat friend or MSNBC host but do you know the history? Or how deep it goes? For example, in 1974, President Richard Nixon proposed, in essence, today’s Affordable Care Act.
Under Nixon’s plan, all but the smallest employers would’ve provided insurance to their workers or pay a penalty, an expanded Medicaid-type program would insure the poor and subsidies would be provided to low-income individuals and small employers.
Private insurers were in favor of the Nixon plan but Democrats preferred a system based on Social Security and Medicare and, as usual, the two sides failed to agree. The Allentown Morning Call reported several instance where Rick Santorum wanted to “require individuals to buy health insurance rather than forcing employers to pay for benefits.”
The idea didn’t fade with Nixon’s political demise. Mark Pauly, an adviser to the first Bush, and now a conservative health economist, came up with a Heritage-style health care proposal for the president in 1991 as an alternative to the employer-based mandate that Democrats were pushing at the time.
Mitt Romney’s signature legislative achievement is more familiar to your average voter. ‘Romneycare’ has been cited by Barack Obama as a template for his own plan (despite several important but rhetorically-hard-to-parse distinctions). Consequently, during the 2012 campaign, Romney had trouble developing an effective attack on Obamacare, deflecting the blame for his having devising a similar plan at one debate, where he noted that “we got the idea of an individual mandate…from Newt Gingrich.”
Gingrich, who had been a big supporter of the individual mandate, later reversed his position in 2011. In 1992 and 1993, when Republicans were looking for alternatives to Hillary Clinton’s health care plan, many along with then-House minority whip Gingrich, backed the Heritage idea. Twenty members of the GOP cosponsored a 1993 health care bill which included an individual mandate and vouchers for poor people.
In the 103rd Congress, of the 43 Republicans in the Senate, the following 20 comprised nearly half of the Republican Senate Caucus at that time.
After the individual mandate became the brainchild of the Dem’s, the following changed their minds: Sen. Bob Dole, Sen. John Chafee, Sen. Robert Bennet, Sen. Christopher Bond, Sen. George Brown , Sen. John Danforth, Sen. Pete Domenici, Sen. David Durenberger, Sen. Duncan Faircloth, Sen. William Cohen, Sen. Slade Gorton, Sen. Chuck Grassley, Sen. Mark Hatfield, Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, Sen. Dick Lugar, Sen. Alan Simpson, Sen. Arlen Specter, Sen. Ted Stevens, Sen. John Warner, and Sen. Orrin Hatch.
The individual mandate, the cornerstone of Obamacare, was originally a Republican idea, proposed by the Heritage Foundation in 1989 by Stuart M. Butler of the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Insurance companies loved Butler’s plan so much it found its way into several bills introduced by Republican lawmakers in 1993. Among the supporters were Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Charles Grassley (R-IA). Both now oppose the mandate under the Affordable Care Act. Newt Gingrich, who became Speaker of the House in 1995, was also a big proponent.
Many choose to ignore that, in his 2007 State of the Union message, President Bush proposed a sweeping health reform plan that would have replaced the current tax exclusion for employer-provided coverage with standard tax deductions for all individuals and families. The Bush plan called for a tax deduction that would have applied to payroll taxes as well as income taxes.
President Bush’s health plan was declared “dead on arrival” by Democrats in 2007.
There have also been no less than five comprehensive health reform proposals introduced in Congress by the GOP, some well before President Obama even was nominated for president, and all happening months before the House or Senate voted on what eventually became Obamacare.
The ultimate irony: had Democrats stuck to the original Democratic vision and built comprehensive health insurance into Social Security and Medicare, it would have been cheaper, simpler, constitutional and more widely accepted by the public.
A health plan was in the works long before Obama. So, for our Nobel Peace Prize winner-in-Chief to declare that if Republicans “had some better ideas” on health care, he was “happy to hear them. But I haven’t heard any so far,” is nothing short of incredible.
Congressional Republicans had a broad assortment of new, innovative, vastly-superior-to-Obamacare health care reform ideas that choose to be conveniently ignored by the Obama administration.
Had the Republicans continued to advocate for their own reform alternatives instead of focusing on wedge issues and other distractions over the past decade, perhaps they would have had a fighting chance on healthcare reform being their hallmark achievement. This fight shouldn’t even be as close as it is but for a lack of Republican leadership on the vision front.