So why does Newt think his plan is an improvement? “If [retirees] select the personalized system, beneficiaries would receive support to cover their private-sector premiums. Giving all seniors the option to choose their insurance provider will improve price competition and help lower costs for the program.”
But this isn’t true. If you give seniors a choice between a fully subsidized government-run program and a partially subsidized private-sector program, the vast majority will choose the greater subsidy. Premium-support plans will always be at a structural disadvantage compared with fully subsidized, traditional Medicare. Gingrich’s proposal, such as it is, would doom premium support to failure.
If you really want to give people the choice between a Ryan-style system and traditional Medicare, the only plausible way to do so is to adopt competitive bidding, an approach advocated by Yuval Levin, Reihan Salam, and others. It’s an approach that Mitt Romney recently has signaled some interest in. But Gingrich is expressly opposed to this idea, because he sees it as too politically risky.
Mark Steyn once called Gingrich “a lily-livered ninny whom everyone thinks is a ferocious right-wing bastard.” Mitt Romney gets criticized for moving rightward since he was governor of Massachusetts. But when it comes to Medicare reform, the nation’s greatest fiscal challenge, Gingrich has in fact moved leftward. In 1993, he advocated a full-on, Swiss-style voucher system for Medicare; today, Ryan’s far milder plan is too radical for Newt’s tastes.
To give credit where it is due, Gingrich did pass landmark welfare-reform legislation in 1996. Today, though Social Security poses a far lesser danger to the nation’s long-term fiscal stability, Gingrich’s plan for Social Security reform is bold and attractive.
Former congressman Chris Shays (R., Conn.) probably captured the strength and weakness of Newt best in comments to Bolduc: “He’s a true entrepreneur in the classic sense. You can launch the business, but you can’t necessarily run it.” Gingrich brought us a once-unimaginable House GOP majority but ended up using that majority to expand, rather than shrink, the size of government.
There can be little doubt that a Gingrich presidency would bring us more of the same: sudden, dramatic shifts in policy strategy, with a lot of overheated rhetoric, undermined by unilateral legislative concessions. Newt Gingrich would tarnish the conservative brand for a generation. Republicans can, and must, do better.
— Avik Roy is author of The Apothecary, a blog on health-care and entitlement reform, and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. You can follow him on Twitter at @aviksaroy.
Editor’s note: This article has been amended since its original posting.