Of course Gingrich supported a health care mandate

Mitt Romney continues to face all kinds of heat over his support for a health care mandate, in large part because he continues to defend it. But Sam Stein notes this week that disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Romney rival for the Republican presidential nomination, was just as ardent an advocate of the idea.

In his post-congressional life, Gingrich has been a vocal champion for mandated insurance coverage — the very provision of President Obama’s health care legislation that the Republican Party now decries as fundamentally unconstitutional.

This mandate was hardly some little-discussed aspect of Gingrich’s plan for health care reform. In the mid-2000s, he partnered with then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) to promote a centrist solution to fixing the nation’s health care system. A July 22, 2005, Hotline article on one of the duo’s events described the former speaker as endorsing not just state-based mandates (the linchpin of Romney’s Massachusetts law) but “some federal mandates” as well. A New York Sun writeup of what appears to be the same event noted that “both politicians appeared to endorse proposals to require all individuals to have some form of health coverage.”

Neera Tanden, an aide to Clinton at the time who went on to help craft President Obama’s law, said she couldn’t recall exact speeches, but “strongly” believed that the both Clinton and Gingrich backed the individual mandate. Either way, she added, “Gingrich has been known as a supporter” of the idea for some time.

A simple newspaper archive search bears this out.

Gingrich endorsed the individual health care mandate over and over again, in public remarks, in media interviews, and in policy proposals. Ironically, he even explained the importance of the mandate in a book entitled, “Winning the Future.” Gingrich didn’t just grudgingly go along with the measure as part of some kind of compromise; he actively touted it as a good idea.

And he was right.

But that was before President Obama decided he also agreed with the idea, at which point the mandate became poisonous in Republican circles.

The point to keep in mind, though, is that Gingrich’s support for the idea isn’t at all surprising. Indeed, it would have been odd if Gingrich didn’t endorse the mandate.

For those who’ve forgotten, this was a Republican idea in the first place. Nixon embraced it in the 1970s, and George H.W. Bush supported the idea in the 1980s. When Dole endorsed the mandate in 1994, it was in keeping with the party’s prevailing attitudes at the time. Romney embraced the mandate as governor and it was largely ignored during the ’08 campaign, since it was in keeping with the GOP mainstream.

In recent years, the mandate has also been embraced by the likes of John McCain, Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Bob Bennett, Tommy Thompson, Lamar Alexander, Lindsey Graham, John Thune, Scott Brown, and Judd Gregg, among many others. Indeed, several of them not only endorsed the policy, they literally co-sponsored legislation that included a mandate.

During the fight over Obama’s reform proposal, Grassley told Fox News, of all outlets, “I believe that there is a bipartisan consensus to have an individual mandate” — and there was no pushback from party leaders. This isn’t ancient history; it was a year and a half ago.

Newt Gingrich touted the same idea? Well, sure, of course he did.