From: The Wall Street Journal
Gingrich to House GOP: Drop Dead
Newt undermines his former comrades on Medicare. .Article Comments (232) more in Opinion ».
The Republican Presidential campaign is off to a slow start, but judging by the last week not slow enough. First Mitt Romney defends his ObamaCare prototype in Massachusetts, and now Newt Gingrich has decided to run against House Republicans on Medicare. They must be loving this at the White House.
Asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday about Paul Ryan's reform plan, Mr. Gingrich chose to throw his former allies in the GOP House not so much under the bus as off the Grand Canyon rim.
The Ryan program "is too big a jump," he said. "I think what you want to have is a system where people voluntarily migrate to better outcomes, better solutions, better options. Not one where you suddenly impose upon you—I don't want to—I—I'm against ObamaCare, which is imposing radical change. And I would be against a conservative imposing radical change."
At least Mr. Romney praised Mr. Ryan for his political courage even if he didn't embrace the House Budget Chairman's specific Medicare proposal. By using the word "radical," Mr. Gingrich deliberately chose to echo the liberal critics who want to write the Ryan plan out of respectable political debate. Mr. Gingrich knows that all but four House Republicans voted for a budget outline that includes Mr. Ryan's Medicare plan, so his remarks had the political effect of undermining his former comrades in the middle of their budget showdown with President Obama.
In an interview with us yesterday, Mr. Gingrich conceded that he "probably used too strong language" on TV but that "I have thought about this for a long time and I am very, very worried." He explained that he was trying to articulate "a political strategy for long-term, sustainable change" and that Mr. Ryan ought to have focused on "incentives rather than punishments" and "the right to choose versus being forced to choose." He added that "I think it would be politically catastrophic to pass the bill in its current form" at a moment when conservatives have an opportunity "to break the left for the first time since 1932."
Yet surely Mr. Gingrich knows that the Ryan plan has no chance of passing this Congress given opposition in the Senate. Our guess is that a politician as experienced as Mr. Gingrich knew exactly what he was doing and that as he runs for President, he wants to appear to be more moderate than he has sounded over the last, oh, 20 years, by suddenly triangulating against the GOP House he once led.
Mr. Gingrich's charge of radicalism is false in any case. Mr. Ryan is proposing a "premium support" model for Medicare of the kind that already governs health plans for federal workers and public employees in California and other states. The government would pay a set annual fee (starting at $15,000 per senior and rising with inflation) to private Medicare plans that would then compete to attract seniors. With consumers paying the marginal costs of their own care, providers and insurers will begin to compete on price and quality.
The irony is that Mr. Gingrich's own history of political failure on health care has made Mr. Ryan's proposals all the more necessary. In 1995, Mr. Gingrich pushed a "Medicare Plus" reform through Congress that shared many of the same features as Mr. Ryan's. It would have cut $270 billion from Medicare over seven years, while giving seniors a premium-support choice to join HMOs. President Clinton vetoed it, which along with Mr. Gingrich's refusal to compromise helped precipitate the government shutdown.
In 1997, he agreed to a balanced budget deal that planted the seeds for future spending increases by creating a new entitlement for children's health insurance but offering no fundamental Medicare changes. A formula was created for phony cuts in physician payments, hiding the program's true costs. And the difficult choices were deferred to a bipartisan commission, which in 1999 recommended—yes, premium support, like Mr. Ryan.
After retiring from the House, Mr. Gingrich next lobbied for the GOP's 2003 Medicare drug entitlement, though three-quarters of seniors already had some kind of private prescription coverage. In these pages, with his usual restraint, he called it "the most important reorganization of our nation's health-care system since the original Medicare bill of 1965 and the largest and most positive change in direction for the health system in 60 years for people over 65."
Mr. Gingrich's policy conceit was that the bill's health savings accounts would revolutionize health care. The bill's minor market reforms have worked better than expected, but ObamaCare has undermined HSAs, which were never by themselves enough to introduce consumer-driven health-care reform.
Yet now he is trashing Mr. Ryan for thinking far more deeply about health care, and in a far more principled fashion, than Mr. Gingrich ever has. The episode reveals the Georgian's weakness as a candidate, and especially as a potential President—to wit, his odd combination of partisan, divisive rhetoric and poll-driven policy timidity.
In his recent campaign book, "To Save America," he describes Mr. Obama as bent on leading a "secular–socialist machine" that "represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did." Mr. Ryan speaks softly but proposes policies commensurate with America's problems. Mr. Gingrich speaks loudly but shrinks from hard choices. Who's the "radical" and who's the real leader?
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