From Wonkbook, Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas’s morning policy news primer. To read more by Ezra and his team, go to Wonkblog.
The opening session of the Republican National Committee’s Boston confab featured ex-Speaker Newt Gingrich scolding his fellow Republicans on their failure to come through on the “replace” side of “repeal-and-replace.”
“If we’re going to take on the fight with Obamacare, we have to be able to explain to people what we would do to make your life better,” he said.
That’s a task Republicans have clearly failed at. But for all Gingrich’s bluster on the subject, the simplest way to understand that policy vacuum is to understand Gingrich’s pre-Obamacare health-care plan: It was Obamacare.
“We should insist that everyone above a certain level buy coverage (or, if they are opposed to insurance, post a bond),” he wrote in his 2008 book, ‘Real Change.’ “Meanwhile, we should provide tax credits or subsidize private insurance for the poor.”
So that’s an individual mandate plus tax subsidies to purchase insurance. That’s the core of Obamacare. And it’s no surprise Gingrich supported it. Lots of Republicans did. Gov. Mitt Romney had even signed a plan like that into law in Massachusetts.
Conservative elites had two options when Democrats began to adopt their policy ideas: Declare victory or declare war. Key figures like Gingrich could havve stepped before the cameras and chortled about Democrats giving up on single payer and slinking towards conservative solutions. For Hillary Clinton to run in 2008 with Bob Dole’s health-care plan was an amazing moment in American politics. For Barack Obama to reverse himself on the individual mandate and embrace
the Heritage Foundation’s approach to personal responsibility was further proof that Democrats had lost the war of ideas here. Republicans could have declared victory and, by engaging constructively, pushed the final product further towards their ideal.
They chose war instead. And that meant eradicating any trace of support for the policies they had come up with.
That effort was extraordinarily successful. Republicans quickly convinced themselves they had always been at war with Oceania — excuse me, the individual mandate. But plausible health-care plans are hard to come by. And so, five years later, even leading Republicans haven’t really come by another one. There’s a gaping hole where the party’s health-care plan is supposed to go. Of course the public doesn’t trust Republicans on the issue. Republicans don’t even know what they’d do.
“We are caught up right now in a culture — and you see it every single day — where as long as we are negative and as long as we are vicious and as long as we can tear down our opponent, we don’t have to learn anything,” Gingrich said at the RNC.