Conservatives Run From the Individual Mandate They Once Embraced

The individual mandate has been the core of Republican thinking since Nixon.

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By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

The Heritage Foundation had its Emily Litella moment today. In an op-ed piece in The Washington Post, the conservative think tank acknowledged that it was once a true believer in requiring Americans to purchase health insurance. But now that a Democratic president has embraced the idea, “Never mind.”

I feel sorry for Heritage, and for Mitt Romney and other Republicans who are so furiously denouncing what they once fostered and embraced. The individual mandate has been the core of Republican thinking since the days of Richard Nixon, prized by conservatives as a way to keep the private health insurance industry alive and well, and to ward off Democratic demands for a public system like those in Great Britain or Canada.

In other words, conservatives promoted the concept of a mandate for decades because it wasn't socialism and, in fact, it would prevent socialism.

The mandate was seen, by many Republican theorists, as a reasonable alternative to a public option, with the great virtue of keeping the American healthcare system, at its core, a market-based enterprise. Nowadays, of course, such thinking will get you burned as a heretic.

The trouble for sentient conservatives is that, after years of fighting the Republicans, the Democrats finally embraced the individual mandate, and went ahead and passed the darn thing. Now everyone who knows something about American politics realizes that Obamacare is based on mainstream Republican ideas, especially the irate liberals who feel that Obama sold them out.

The conservative entertainment industry, however, is making bundles scaring the hysterics in the base about “socialism.” (I see, by the way, that the socialists on Wall St. nudged the market up above 11,000 last week.) And so Romney--who put Obamacare in place in Massachusetts when he was governor--and Republican theorists at Heritage and elsewhere have to disavow their ideas.

"Yes, in the early 1990s, we, along with other prominent conservative economists, supported the idea of such a mandate. It seemed the only way to solve the `free-rider’ problem in which individuals can, under federal law, walk into any hospital emergency room nationwide and rack up big bills at taxpayer expense," writes Robert Moffit, a Heritage scholar, in the op-ed.

But conservatives have since determined that there are “far better alternatives,” Moffit says. And, he insists, political expediency has nothing to do with their change of heart.

Unafraid of what this says about the quality of Heritage research, Moffit declares that the very concept that conservatives so enthusiastically embraced for such a long time is actually, according to their more recent research, not merely “unconstitutional,” but “repugnant” and “abominable.”

Oops. That’s quite a miss. Never mind.

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