Gingrich's Flip Flop on Health Mandate

Time was, Republican Newt Gingrich supported requiring people to buy health insurance, calling it a matter of personal responsibility.

On Monday, the former House speaker and presidential candidate took to You Tube to swear that he was “opposed to the Obamacare mandate on individuals.” He vowed to repeal President Obama’s health-care law, which requires people to buy health insurance, and said, he was “against any effort to impose a federal mandate on anyone because it is fundamentally wrong and, I believe, unconstitutional.”

Gingrich was reacting to a firestorm of criticism after his Sunday appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” when he was asked if he supported former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s health-care overhaul in that state, which rests on an individual insurance mandate – and said, basically, yes.

“Well, I think of all us have a responsibility to pay – to help pay – for health care,” Gingrich said, responding to a question on MTP, his first big TV appearance since declaring his candidacy last week. “And I think there are ways to do it that make most libertarians happy. I’ve said consistently that we ought to have some requirement that you either have health insurance or you post a bond.”

"But that is the individual mandate, is it not?” asked host David Gregory.

“It’s a variation on it,” replied Gingrich.

A little more than 24 hours later, he executed the full flip flop. The individual mandate is now anathema to most Republican voters, who consider it a big government infringement on personal liberty. Romney, in fact, was forced to give the first policy speech of his campaign last week to defend the idea, argue that Obama’s plan was different (and more sinister because of its “one-size fits all” national nature), and to vow to tear up the whole thing and start over.

It all goes to show how much the GOP has come to be influenced by the libertarian branch of the conservative religion in the past few election cycles. Requiring people to buy health insurance if they could afford it was, as recently as 2006, when Romney did it in Massachusetts, considered a conservative policy. The individual mandate was developed by the right’s brightest wonks as a market-based solution to the problem of the uninsured, and as an answer to calls for government single-payer systems.

During MTP, Gregory played a 1993 news clip in which Gingrich endorsed an individual mandate, and there scattered other references over the years. As recently as 2007, Gingrich was pretty firm about the idea in an op-ed piece in The Des Moines Register.

“Personal responsibility extends to health insurance,” he wrote. “Citizens should not be able to cheat their neighbors by not buying insurance, particularly when they can afford it, and expect others to pay for their care when they need it.”