So there’s an old Guns N’ Roses song called Used to Love Her. Its lyrics are, well, pretty straightforward:
I used to love her, but I had to kill her
I used to love her, but I had to kill her
I had to put her
Six feet under
And I can still hear her complain
So it goes on and on like this, with a few variations, but you get the point.
Before I break into my best Axl Rose falsetto (however, don’t let me stop you from doing so), I’ll get to my point: this song summarizes the way Republicans feel about government-mandated healthcare. At least for now. Until they change their minds. Again.
You see, Republicans have a fairly long and well-chronicled history of supporting different government-mandated healthcare systems. Similar to John Kerry’s infamous quote, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it,” Republicans were for government-mandated healthcare before they were against it. Let’s look at some of the suitors…
Back in 1974, President Nixon proposed the “Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan.” A key component of this plan was a government mandate. However, unlike Obama’s plan which has a mandate that every individual purchase health insurance, Nixon’s plan included a mandate that every employer purchase health insurance for its employees and pay at least 75% of the premiums. Pressure from the left and right — and a little thing called Watergate — derailed Nixon’s plan.
The Heritage Foundation
In 1989 and 1992, The Heritage Foundation published two reports laying the intellectual groundwork for individually-mandated healthcare, now known in some circles as “Obamacare.” Essentially, they argued that for the same reason it is a good idea for government to mandate that drivers carry liability insurance, it would be a good idea for government to mandate that individuals purchase healthcare insurance. Plus, they were searching for a more market-friendly alternative to single-payer or employer-mandated healthcare reform plans. (This idea was also kicked around by the George H.W. Bush Administration.) However, now that the concept is associated with a Democratic president, they spend their time arguing that this approach is unconstitutional.
Congressional Republicans (1993-1994)
President (and Hillary) Clinton’s healthcare reform plan introduced in 1993 included government mandates, healthcare security cards, regional alliances, interleague play, rock-paper-scissors, etc. Shockingly, despite its simple elegance, this plan died in late 1994 (with a little help from some devastating opposition commercials). However, during these debates there were three primary Republican alternatives, and one of the leading ones — the Health Equity and Access Reform Today Act of 1993 — included an individual mandate.1
Staying in the 1990’s, then Congressman Gingrich was a big fan of individual mandates, stating, “I am for people, individuals — exactly like automobile insurance — individuals having health insurance and being required to have health insurance.” Fast forward to May 2011 and now Presidential candidate Gingrich stated on Meet the Press that “…all of us have a responsibility to pay — help pay for health care,” and described his position as a “variation” on the individual mandate. This is curious since on the campaign trail he refers to individual mandates — and “Obamacare” — as unconstitutional.
This is probably the most (currently) famous example of Republicans embracing government-mandated healthcare, recently summarized incredibly well by Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker. The brief back story is that when he was a more practical, moderate Governor of Massachusetts, Romney concluded that an individual mandate is “a Republican way of reforming the [healthcare] market.” (Interestingly, the program was initially funded with federal money from the Bush Administration.) Of course, Romney’s healthcare plan — passed in 2006 — eventually became the blueprint for Obama’s healthcare plan, even though he now opposes it. Obama’s plan, that is, not his plan. I think. It’s very hard to tell them apart, but Obama’s is definitely the evil twin. You can tell by the facial hair.
As you can see, this is a pretty long dating history. Until Obama stole their thunder,2 for the better part of four decades Republicans have been advocates for government-mandated healthcare. I tend to think that these two former lovers are just “on a break” and will eventually reconcile like Ross and Rachel. They just need to get rid of the foreign guy in the White House.
- Ezra Klein wrote a nice summary of Republicans and individual mandates during this time. ↩
- Interestingly, Obama was critical of the individual mandate during the 2008 primary when it was part of Hillary Clinton’s healthcare plan. However, he quickly endorsed the concept when he wanted something that Congress would pass. Apparently, Democrats can also be temperamental lovers. ↩