New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer seized on the former GOP house speaker comments this week as an endorsement of the idea that the suggested GOP reforms are “extreme”--a theme he promised to echo throughout the coming campaign season.
It’s not the first time. Back in 1995 Democrats similarly seized on something Gingrich had said to allege the GOP had “a secret plan” to abolish Medicare. The problem was, then as now, they were being untruthful.
In a speech that October to a Blue Cross/Blue Shield conference Gingrich said he held to the belief that the federal bureaucracy overseeing Medicare--then the Health Care Financing Administration, now the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services--would “wither on the vine because we think people are voluntarily going to leave” Medicare once market-based alternatives were made available.
At the time Gingrich had successfully led the charge against ClintonCare and the GOP was advocating for free-market alternatives to the command and control approach taken by the federal government and being pushed by the Clinton White House.
Democrats, taking the “wither on the vine” comment out of context, started an editorial and advocacy campaign alleging that it was Medicare itself--not the federal bureaucracy behind it--that Gingrich was saying should be allowed to die a slow and neglectful death.
As CNN’s Brooks Jackson wrote at the time, “They call it "Medi-Scare." It's the tactic of frightening the elderly by claiming Republicans plan to destroy Medicare. And the latest television advertisement from the AFL-CIO is a case in point.” [See how Newt can win the GOP nomination.]
The ad, Jackson wrote, was “just dishonest. What Gingrich really said was that the Republicans believed the Medicare bureaucracy would wither on the vine---not Medicare benefits.”
The idea Gingrich was talking about, then as now, is that the right alternative to a bureaucratic, centralized, government-run system to provide healthcare to America’s elderly would be replaced, over time, with one based on personal choices, much the way the healthcare system works for most American’s today. [See a photo history of Newt Gingrich's career.]
He has a point that whatever changes be made to the system be voluntary, at least for those currently enrolled in the program. Much like President Barack Obama falsely promised to the American people that, under his plan, they could keep the healthcare they had if they wanted to Gingrich is saying, truthfully, that forcing people to leave the Medicare system is as bad a choice, morally and politically, as forcing them into it.
It’s a point worthy of debate and one limited government advocates should consider as healthcare reform moves forward. Moreover, it’s important that the discussion be an honest one, designed to produce real solutions rather than scare seniors as Schumer and others appear to be ready to do.