Newt Is the Problem
On health-care entitlements, Newt has moved left.


Avik Roy

Newt Gingrich’s rise to the top of the GOP polls is fueled, in part, by Republicans’ mistrust of Mitt Romney. Romney’s signature Massachusetts health-care law, the model for Obamacare, leads many to wonder whether Romney can challenge the president on this most important domestic issue. But any conservative who opposes Romney because of Romneycare should oppose Gingrich with thrice the intensity: Newt Gingrich is one of the principal abettors of the exploding health-care entitlement state we face today. Indeed, it’s not clear what would be worse for the cause of entitlement reform: Newt’s losing to Obama or Newt’s beating him.

“I wouldn’t switch my positions for political reasons,” Gingrich recently told a South Carolina radio station, in an apparent attempt to draw a contrast between himself and Romney. And perhaps Newt is right. He doesn’t change positions out of a considered desire to attune himself to public sentiment. Apparently he changes positions based on what he had for breakfast that morning.

“On Monday, we would say we’re not going to give a $500 child tax credit to people who don’t have tax liabilities,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) to National Review’s Brian Bolduc. “On Wednesday, he’d meet with President Clinton, and that position would change.” Newt has displayed egregious unreliability on the issues with the highest stakes. As Bolduc recounts from the memoir of former speaker Denny Hastert (R., Ill.), “In May 1997 . . . Newt declared the GOP willing to separate tax cuts from other items in a balanced-budget deal that we were negotiating with Bill Clinton. That was news to us and represented a huge change in policy in less than twenty-four hours.”

Schizo Newt has been on display this year on the nation’s most important fiscal issue: Medicare reform. Last spring, all but four Republican members of the House of Representatives drew air into their lungs and voted for Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity, the boldest set of entitlement reforms ever to pass a chamber of Congress, knowing that they would be savaged by Democrats for doing so. Weeks later, Newt Gingrich appeared on Meet the Press to denounce these Republicans for “imposing radical change” and engaging in “right-wing social engineering.” It would be a Democratic dream to be able to hang the words of Gingrich, the Republican nominee for president, around every House Republican in a competitive district.

It was bad enough that Gingrich attacked the Ryan plan on substantive grounds. (Apparently, in Newt’s world, everybody is a radical except Newt.) Ryan’s painstakingly gradual reforms of Medicare are an outgrowth of bipartisan proposals offered under President Clinton and echo the formats of other popular federal programs such as the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan and the Medicare prescription-drug benefit. Newt’s outburst shows us how the former speaker usually ends up destroying, rather than advancing, thoughtful conservative reforms.

Over the last year, Gingrich has changed his opinion of the Ryan plan at least three times. Only six weeks before he slammed Ryan on Meet the Press, Newt described Ryan’s plan in glowing terms. “Paul Ryan has stepped up to the plate,” Gingrich told Bill Bennett on April 5. “This is a very, very serious budget, and I think rivals with [what] John Kasich did as budget chairman in getting to a balanced budget in the 1990s, just for the scale and courage involved . . . Paul Ryan is going to define modern conservatism at a serious level.”

And in the days after the Meet the Press firestorm, Newt changed his opinion once again. In an interview on May 18, Gingrich said, “I would have voted for [the Ryan plan] and [would still] . . . I think [Ryan] is doing a really good job.” But wait — didn’t he say the weekend before that Ryan’s plan was radical, right-wing social engineering? Apparently not. “Let me say, on the record: Any ad which quotes what I said Sunday is a falsehood.”