Opposing the ideas they support

OPPOSING THE IDEAS THEY SUPPORT…. It’s been surprisingly easy of late to chronicle the many instances in which congressional Republicans have announced their opposition to ideas they support. From a deficit commission to PAYGO, cap-and-trade to a financial industry bailout, civilian trials for terrorist suspects to stimulus aid for their districts, it’s become routine for Republicans to embrace and reject the same proposals, almost at the same time.

On an individual mandate as part of health care reform, Karen Tumulty noted this morning that Republicans “oppose their own idea.” She referenced this piece from NPR’s Julie Rovner.

For Republicans, the idea of requiring every American to have health insurance is one of the most abhorrent provisions of the Democrats’ health overhaul bills.

“Congress has never crossed the line between regulating what people choose to do and ordering them to do it,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). “The difference between regulating and requiring is liberty.”

But Hatch’s opposition is ironic, or some would say, politically motivated. The last time Congress debated a health overhaul, when Bill Clinton was president, Hatch and several other senators who now oppose the so-called individual mandate actually supported a bill that would have required it.

In fact, says Len Nichols of the New America Foundation, the individual mandate was originally a Republican idea. “It was invented by Mark Pauly to give to George Bush Sr. back in the day, as a competition to the employer mandate focus of the Democrats at the time.”

If we could expect consistency and intellectual seriousness from GOP lawmakers, it would be almost bewildering.

Over the summer, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told Fox News, “I believe that there is a bipartisan consensus to have individual mandates…. There isn’t anything wrong with it.” A few months later, he used individual mandates as an excuse to oppose reform, and voted for a resolution characterizing mandates as unconstitutional.

Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Bob Bennett (R-Utah), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) all declared their opposition to an individual mandate in December. All five of them are on record co-sponsoring a reform measure that included an individual mandate.

The point here is not just to highlight the bizarre inconsistencies of Republican opponents of health care reform. This is also important in realizing why bipartisanship on health care has been quite literally impossible — Republicans are willing to reject measures they’ve already embraced, and ideas they themselves came up with.

All the Democratic outreach and compromise options in the world can’t overcome the fundamental lack of seriousness that comes with a party that opposes and supports the same ideas at the same time.