Obamacare, demonized by the Right, had conservative roots

Mar 21 2012 - 10:45am

At every campaign debate, the mere mention of "Obamacare" has caused Republican presidential hopefuls to morph into pro-wrestlers -- pounding the mat in feigned pain, wailing about its mandate that all Americans must have health insurance.

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul -- and all the others who've been tossed from the ring -- grappled and clamored to be the first to denounce President Barack Obama's mandate as "liberal." Also "socialist."

And in their zeal to mold your minds, the Grand Old Party's Obama- denouncers seem to have won. As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments next week on Obamacare's constitutionality, a new poll shows most Americans want the Court to invalidate the program -- or at least its mandate. The numbers are not close. The Washington Post/ABC News survey showed 42 percent want the whole law declared unconstitutional -- and another 25 percent want at least its insurance mandate invalidated.

What the Republicans and their think-tank idea-feeders hope you don't remember -- or haven't learned from the news media -- is that Obamacare's mandate grew from roots that were neither liberal nor socialist -- but market-based and conservative. One of the early advocates of a market-based mandated health insurance for all was the conservative Heritage Foundation. And its earliest champions included not just Gov. Romney, whose Massachusetts plan had just such an insurance mandate, but also conservative Republicanism's self-proclaimed thinker of big thoughts, former House Speaker Gingrich.

In 1993, when he was still hatching his master plan that won him a speakership, Gingrich appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" and said: "I am for people, individuals -- exactly like automobile insurance -- individuals having health insurance and being required to have health insurance. And I am prepared to vote for a voucher system which will give individuals, on a sliding scale, a government subsidy so we insure that everyone as individuals have health insurance."

Remember that was during the Clinton years, when liberals were pushing for a single-payer, government-run national health insurance plan. Gingrich was advocating a market-based alternative. Heritage's think-tank experts praised Romney's Massachusetts plan and advocated "organizing a state's insurance markets around a central clearinghouse," as Heritage fellow Edmund Haislmaier wrote in 2006.

But Heritage Foundation officials and experts note that Obama significantly expanded that concept to include a strong federal role in regulating the mandate and insurance exchanges. Indeed, Heritage president Ed Feulner issued a quick and strong rejection of Obama's comments in a 2010 interview when he said his administration's health-care program was similar to Romney's Massachusetts plan, and, "a lot of the ideas in terms of the exchange, just being able to pool and improve the purchasing power of individuals in the insurance market, that originated from the Heritage Foundation."

Heritage's Feulner responded: "We take great exception to this misuse of our work and abuse of our name."

Time out. The Pulitzer-winning Politifact.com, created by the Tampa Bay Times and its Washington bureau chief Bill Adair, did a fine job of sorting through all this -- even though its work has not always been sufficiently noted by news media colleagues. It asked 10 conservative ideologues not affiliated with Heritage if they thought Obama was accurate in asserting his health-care plan had Heritage roots. Nine thought Obama's statement was "reasonably accurate," Politifact.com reported.

Hmmm. So what if Obama had never been elected president and a Republican president or Congress had proposed a health-care reform plan strikingly similar to Obama's? What would leading Republicans and conservative ideologues be saying about it?

American Conservative magazine senior editor Daniel McCarthy discussed just that with Politifact.com. "... I don't imagine Ed Feulner would be complaining at all if a Republican president or a Republican Congress had passed a plan that deviated from the Heritage blueprint to the same degree that Obama's bill has," McCarthy told Politifact. "... the overall approach is similar to policies Heritage has long championed, including the individual mandate as well as the insurance exchanges.

"This is only controversial because the wrong party happened to pass the law, and it's poison for any conservative to be identified with it."

Exactly.

Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. Email him at martin.schram@gmail.com.

From Around the Web

  +