Cheering a victory over their own idea

CHEERING A VICTORY OVER THEIR OWN IDEA…. Many on the right are, not surprisingly, delighted with today’s federal district court ruling on the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. That’s to be expected — they’re hoping to gut the law. The two previous legal defeats notwithstanding, today’s dubious ruling represents a win for the right, at least for now.

But it seems entirely appropriate under the circumstances to remind folks, once again, who came up with the individual mandate in the first place.

This nonsense from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) was especially jarring.

“Today is a great day for liberty,” said Hatch. “Congress must obey the Constitution rather than make it up as we go along. Liberty requires limits on government, and today those limits have been upheld.”

Look, I get that Hatch is worried about facing a primary challenger in 2012, and on health care policy in general, he’s been a pretty shameless hack. But while he’s applauding this victory for “liberty,” I hope it’s not rude to point out that Orrin Hatch literally co-sponsored a health care bill with an individual mandate.

Maybe he was against liberty before he was for it?

The record here may be inconvenient for the right, but it’s also unambiguous: the mandate Republicans currently hate was their idea. It was championed by the Heritage Foundation. It was part of Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign platform*. Nixon embraced it in the 1970s, and George H.W. Bush kept it going in the 1980s.

For years, it was touted by the likes of John McCain, Mitt Romney, Scott Brown, Chuck Grassley, Bob Bennett, Tommy Thompson, Lamar Alexander, Lindsey Graham, John Thune, Judd Gregg, and many others all notable GOP officials.

My personal favorite is Grassley, who proclaimed on Fox News last year, during the fight over Obama’s plan, “I believe that there is a bipartisan consensus to have an individual mandate.” (A year later, Grassley signed onto a legal brief insisting that the mandate is unconstitutional.)

This is probably obvious, but in case there are any doubts on this, Republicans are cheering today’s ruling, but it’s not because they have a problem with the mandate. It’s not even because they have a substantive problem with the Affordable Care Act itself.

This is about cheap politics. Republican pollsters no doubt told GOP officials that the mandate is a potential vulnerability to the signature Democratic polity priority, so that’s where the party is focusing its attention, hoping that the public simply doesn’t pay attention to the fact that they’re attacking their own idea.

No one, least of all reporters covering this today, should fall for such cheap tactics.

* Correction: Dole incorporated the individual mandate into his reform plan in ’94, not ’96 — he supported the policy, just two years beforehand. My apologies for the error.