The Corner

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Newt Speaks


President Obama, grab a pen.

As you mull what to say in your next major health-care speech (which the AP reports will come quite soon), you’ll be hearing from a lot of folks. One person worth listening to is former House speaker Newt Gingrich. His advice may surprise you.

“I think the president has a real opportunity to fundamentally change the tone of his administration,” Gingrich tells NRO. But, he says, “I think it takes deeper change than simply yes or no on the public option. Frankly, if he does come out against a public option — given what the Left and the ACLU have said — it would be a very significant moment, and we should not understate how significant that would be.”

Beyond the public option, Gingrich says Obama now has the chance to “change the whole tone of politics in this country.” How so? First, he should take two steps, says Gingrich. One would be to quit trying to pass a comprehensive omnibus bill of a thousand pages or more and agree to a series of reform bills, written in a bipartisan way and with open rules. “These are major, huge topics,” Gingrich says. “Let the country work it through and solve it.” The second step would be to “look for a new generation of solutions, rather than the tired, rehashed, 15-year-old or even 40-year-old ideas.”

Stopping the “crooks” who swindle the government on Medicare and Medicaid should be a priority, too, says Gingrich. “Jim Frogue, my colleague at the Center for Health Transformation, has shown in his new book, Stop Paying the Crooks, that these programs now pay billions” to health-care con artists. Gingrich cites several examples of this fraud, including men earning maternity benefits, dentists filing for hundreds of procedures, pizza parlors in south Florida being paid as HIV-transfusion centers, and dead patients earning federal health-care benefits.

In recent days, Gingrich has returned to the text of Obama’s victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park on election night last year. “If you go back to it and reread it, Obama says [he is] going to make mistakes. He has set himself up for the perfect opportunity, if he has the nerve to take the Left on and come out against a public option, saying it’s now off the table and not possible. If he has the nerve to do that, he may well have the nerve to say, ‘Let’s get the whole country engaged.’”

Gingrich, admitting that he’s “clearly a partisan and conservative,” says he still sees hope for the Obama administration to turn things around, pointing to his own work with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on charter schools as a positive sign.

“You really do want presidents to succeed,” says Gingrich. “That’s why we wrote welfare reform with Clinton. If there is a way for this president to reach out, he could be like an Eisenhower figure, with a majority in the middle. That would be pretty compelling. But, if you watch the first eight months of his government, he’s given Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid the keys to the kingdom. I always tell the Obama people to read The Right Nation [by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge], a history of conservatism in America, so they can see that what they’re trying to do is impossible. As such, I also think it takes a grudging acceptance of reality for him to acknowledge that he can’t get a government bureaucratic option. It would be a different level of understanding. The world is changing dramatically. We’re still finding out the meaning of Japan having its biggest election change in 54 years, the meaning of all the changes in China. Obama needs to be part of a new generation of ideas.”

“Remember what I said to Mrs. Clinton in the spring of 1993,” says Gingrich, “that it’s impossible to write a comprehensive plan in this country, that no one is smart enough to deal with 17 percent of the economy in one bill. If he gives a speech that says he still wants a single, comprehensive bill, it will show that they haven’t learned. Steny Hoyer says that he’ll spend eight weeks on health care. They have time to do this intelligently.”

Should Obama truly shift away from a single comprehensive bill and the public option, Republicans, Gingrich says, have an obligation “to come in the room and offer real ideas.” If Obama does not change course, the GOP “should calmly and persistently oppose” him.

For now, Gingrich says he’s very pleased with the leadership of RNC chairman Michael Steele, and with Steele’s recently proposed health-care bill of rights for seniors. “Steele is very effective,” says Gingrich. “He’s looking at the polling numbers on seniors, the group most likely to vote, forcing Democrats to answer on whether they really want to cut Medicare Advantage. The president campaigned on the promise that no American will lose their insurance if they want to keep it.”