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Gingrich for Medicare Vouchers Before He Was Against Them?

Morgen on May 16, 2011 at 6:45 am

Newt Gingrich is making headlines for disparaging comments he made yesterday on Meet the Press about Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform plan. When asked whether he supports converting Medicare into a premium-support, voucher type program, Gingrich called this “too big a jump”, and labeled Ryan’s plan “radical”, “right-wing social engineering”. While Ryan’s plan had no chance of being enacted prior to 2012 anyway, Newt is certainly not endearing himself to much of the conservative base with these comments. And he has made the GOP leadership’s job immeasurably more difficult by gifting the White House these soundbites in the midst of the 2012 budget battle.

As it turns out, Gingrich also seems to be contradicting at least one prior statement he has made in support of Medicare reforms very similar to what Ryan is proposing. Back in November 2000, at an event sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, Gingrich was asked specifically about his views on Medicare vouchers:

QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, then for the Medicare or Medicaid recipient, would you advocate for vouchers?

MR. GINGRICH: Well, I think the Breaux-Thomas report indicated, clearly, a move in the direction of vouchers of some kind, and I would recommend the same thing for Medicaid, because you think about the logical argument on welfare reform, all American citizens can have responsibility for their lives, and I think this idea of a bureaucratically–this is another thing I didn’t put in the paper that I probably should have, or I would in a longer version.

That is, I think what conservatives have to decide is they’ll accept some redistribution if it isn’t bureaucratic, and the challenge you have to say to liberals is, look, we’ll take care of the poorest Americans but we’re not going to do it through a large bureaucracy. We’re going to do it by transferring assets in a way that they have control of their lives, that they’re making purchases, and that they’re involved in having choice in an active way, which is very different than the current Medicaid model.

The Breaux-Thomas report Gingrich referred to was the end result of a bipartisan commission on Medicare reform conducted in 1999. A central component of the Breaux-Thomas proposal was, you guessed it, a plan to convert Medicare to a premium-support model with the federal government subsidizing, and regulating, the purchase of private health insurance plans. While certain aspects of Ryan’s plan differ from Breaux-Thomas, particularly in the area of cost controls (Sen. John Breaux was a Democrat, after all), the underlying architecture is very similar. 

Gingrich, based on his comments quoted above, was clearly supportive of the Breaux-Thomas framework, and in fact earlier in the same speech called the plan “a good first step”, while advocating for more direct financial responsibility on the part of everyone within the healthcare system.

Now I’m sure this is not the only policy area where Gingrich has modified his position over the past decade, and it’s notable that he does not seem to have taken a public stance on Medicare vouchers since then. Gingrich, as much as anyone, is keenly aware of the political peril of advocating for the privatization of Medicare, having been excoriated by the left for years for comments he made in 1995 about letting Medicare “wither on the vine”.

But the left is not going to elect him in the Republican primaries and now more than ever conservative voters are looking for serious solutions to the nation’s fiscal problems. By rejecting conservative favorite Paul Ryan’s plan in such a disparaging and public manner, it would seem imperative for Gingrich to elaborate on his own plan for ensuring Medicare’s solvency in the coming decades. With unfunded liabilities running in the tens of trillions of dollars, calling for “more choice” and eliminating fraud (see Newt’s current plan) is not going to cut it in this election cycle.

Addendum: Rep. Ryan responds to the Gingrich attack on his plan.


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