During a debate in January, Rick Santorum charged that “Speaker Gingrich for 20 years supported a federal individual mandate.” Pointing to a series of statements Gingrich had made over the years, beginning with his 1993 comment on Meet the Press that he was “for people, individuals — exactly like automobile insurance — individuals having health insurance and being required to have health insurance,” Politifact rated Santorum’s statement as “mostly true.”
But now, Gingrich’s campaign insists that its candidate is opposed to the individual mandate. “Newt has become convinced by people like Governor Rick Scott, Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia, and attorneys general in more than half the states that a mandate is unconstitutional,” e-mails Gingrich communications director Joe DeSantis. “If the government can force you to buy insurance, it can force you to buy anything. He’s also become convinced by seeing what’s happened in Massachusetts because of Romneycare: bigger government, higher costs, less access.”
But it’s unclear when exactly Gingrich had his road-to-Damascus moment on the issue. The campaign did not respond to questions about when exactly Gingrich decided the individual mandate was unconstitutional. Earlier this week, an audio clip of Gingrich saying in May 2009 that he favored a mandate-like approach in health care went viral: “We believe that there should be must-carry, that everybody should have health insurance, or if you’re an absolute libertarian, we would allow you to post a bond, but we would not allow people to be ‘free riders’ failing to insure themselves and then showing up in the emergency room with no means of payment.”
DeSantis dismisses the clip as “nothing new.”
“Newt has been forthcoming about his past support of an insurance requirement or a bond, particularly as part of an alternative to Hillarycare that most Republicans supported. This clip from May 2009 was a conceptual discussion about how an insurance requirement may help lower perpetually rising health-care costs,” DeSantis says, noting that when the Obamacare legislation was proposed, Gingrich “fervently and consistently opposed it.”
Gingrich was in fact an outspoken opponent of the bill. “This will not stand,” Gingrich wrote right after the House passed Obamacare. “The American people spoke decisively against a big government, high tax, Washington knows best, pro trial-lawyer, centralized, bureaucratic health system.” In a March 2010 interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Gingrich argued the mandate would be found unconstitutional. “Based on a 1992 Supreme Court decision which said that the federal government cannot punish you for failure to do something, I think that there’s an outside chance the suit will hold up,” Gingrich said, referring to the suit being pushed then by 13 state attorneys general. “And that that will stop the individual mandate at the federal level.”
Despite his own checkered history on the subject, Gingrich has been unafraid of lambasting Romney on health care. On the night of his Florida loss, Gingrich defiantly tweeted, “46 States to Go! Donate today and help us defeat Obamneycare.” And in an interview with liberal group Think Progress, Gingrich said of his reversal on the individual mandate, “We looked at it, we studied it, we concluded it was wrong.”
“And unlike Romney, I’ve concluded it was wrong — he is still defending it,” Gingrich added. “Nobody at the White House said they relied on Gingrichcare to design Obamacare. They have said very clearly they relied on Romneycare.”
The Romney campaign, for its part, is stressing that while Romney backed a mandate at the state level, he has no history of support for a mandate at the federal level. “Gingrich was advocating an individual mandate, and at the national level — something that Mitt Romney has never done,” said Utah congressman Jason Chaffetz on a conference call with reporters organized by the Romney campaign.
But perhaps the harshest blowback to Gingrich’s anti-Romneycare rhetoric came from Romney himself in a December debate: “Actually, Newt,” Romney said, after Gingrich had detailed his objections to Romneycare, “we got the idea of an individual mandate from you.”
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.