The President’s health reform law has mostly been considered a political liability for him and his party, especially since it failed to keep Congress in control of the Democrats.
But the events of the past few days suggests Republicans are experiencing an internal meltdown — crumbling under the pressure to offer a conservative solution to the health care crisis, and flailing to explain why Republicans are so hysterical about a health reform law based on what were Republican ideas.
First, presidential candidate Mitt Romney was widely mocked for a health care speech eloquently making the case for the central feature of his Massachusetts reform law — the individual mandate to buy insurance — then nonsensically assailing the President’s reform law which is based on the exact same thing.
Then last Sunday, presidential candidate Newt Gingrich dug himself the exact same hole. Like many Republicans, for more than a decade he has enthusiastically embraced an individual mandate as the conservative way to achieve universal coverage, based on the principle of “personal responsibility.” And like many Republicans, he now deems it “centralized healthcare dictatorship,” since President Obama had the audacity to turn it into law.
But when faced with his own quotes while on “Meet The Press,” Gingrich, like Romney, just stopped making any sense, continuing to embrace the concept of an individual mandate to purchase private insurance while accusing the President’s law as “left-wing social engineering” that would “replace the entire insurance system.”
And then this past Tuesday, Gingrich starts turning on himself again, hastily releasing a web video that says ” I am against any effort to impose a federal mandate on anyone.”
Finally, Republicans broadly are panicking over the rising opposition to the House budget plan that would completely dismantle Medicare as a guarantee of affordable insurance for all retirees. The Hill reports that after suffering heated reactions at numerous town halls, “House leaders do not plan to put Ryan’s blueprint into authorization legislation. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, have introduced a deficit-cutting bill that calls for more Medicare spending than Obama has embraced.”
Even Gingrich tried to distance himself from the plan, calling it “right-wing social engineering” and too “radical” for the public. This prompted House Budget Chair Paul Ryan to fire back at Gingrich, “With allies like that, who needs the left?”
And Gingrich’s presidential rival former Sen. Rick Santorum is trying to gain traction by exploiting Gringrich’s flip-flops, releasing a statement which says: “it is out of line with conservative principles to continue to support individual mandates as both the Speaker did yesterday and Governor Romney did last week. A mandate, be it at the state or federal level, is still a government power-grab…”
Why are conservative Republicans suddenly imploding over this issue? Because they have proven unwilling to be honest with the public about their views.
Faced with the President co-opting their long-standing idea of an individual mandate, conservatives could not bring themselves to claim victory in the battle of ideas, or even to settle for nuanced criticism that acknowledged positive aspects of the bill. They could not resist lambasting the entire law as “socialist” and organizing a massive legal challenge to its constitutionality.
Then, having ceded the only plausible health care policy solution conservatives have come up with in 20 years, but feeling obligated to propose an alternative after railing against the law for so long, Republicans found themselves left with little recourse but to back an idea that lacked any inherent popular support — the dismantling of Medicare — hoping that conservative media will help them sell it.
Yet House Republicans have refused to admit the obvious, that they want to dismantle Medicare — especially since they just won the House by smearing the President’s law as a giant Medicare cut. As the result, they have remained on the defensive in town hall after town hall.
Now that it’s clear that the sell job is going nowhere, the circular firing squad is locked and loaded.
And this has all been prompted by the fact the President made a serious attempt to solve a national problem, forcing the Republicans to put up or shut up. The attempt to demonize “ObamaCare” may prove to be the ultimate backfire.
As Republicans shoot each other up, they feed the notion that they are not serious about solving problems, either because they lack workable ideas or are unwilling to work across the aisle when they do. Without earning a minimum level of respect from the public in regards to policy, Republicans may find themselves in the political wilderness for a lot longer than they hoped for after the midterm elections.
Bill Scher is online editor for Campaign for America’s Future, author of “Wait! Don’t Move To Canada!: A Stay-and-Fight Strategy to Win Back America”, a contributor to The Huffington Post and Bloggingheads.tv, and a fellow of the Commonweal Institute.