Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Sunday that he strongly supports a federal mandate requiring citizens to buy health insurance – a position that has been rejected by many Republicans, including several who likely will be running against him for the Republican presidential nomination.
Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Gingrich told host David Gregory that he continues to advocate for a plan he first called for in the early 1990s as a Congressman, which requires every uninsured citizen to purchase or acquire health insurance.
Gregory played a clip of Gingrich speaking during an appearance on Meet the Press in October 1993:
“I am for people, individuals — exactly like automobile insurance — individuals having health insurance and being required to have health insurance. And I am prepared to vote for a voucher system which will give individuals, on a sliding scale, a government subsidy so we insure that everyone as individuals have health insurance.”
Gregory asked Gingrich if he would criticize GOP presidential rival Mitt Romney, whose “Romneycare” health program enacted during his time as Governor in Massachusetts mandated that all uninsured purchase health insurance.
Gingrich replied he would not make it an issue in the campaign and said he agreed with key aspects of Romneycare.
“I agree that all of us have a responsibility to pay–help pay for health care,” Gingrich said, adding, “I’ve said consistently we ought to have some requirement that you either have health insurance or you post a bond …”
Gingrich also admitted that his proposal is a “variation” of the individual mandate, a key component of the Obamacare legislation President Obama signed into law in 2010.
The position staked out by Gingrich appears to be at odds with leading conservative critics of Obamacare, who argue that the law requiring citizens to purchase a private insurance policy is not constitutional.
The Obama administration is currently facing three lawsuits arguing that the federal mandate is unconstitutional, including one filed by a coalition of 26 states.
The issue is on track for a Supreme Court decision in the summer of 2012, which would make it a likely hot-button topic heading into the elections.
Conservative GOP critics like Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli say the mandate is unconstitutional because although Congress can regulate commerce, it can’t require people to engage in a particular “economic activity” just because they live in the U.S.
Conservative judicial experts have also taken exception to the claim made by Gingrich and supporters of the Obamacare law that mandating health insurance is the same as the government requirement to purchase car insurance, noting that driving a car is a privilege provided by states and not a constitutional right.
Cucinelli says that “buying auto insurance is voluntary, since you are only required to purchase it if you choose to drive on public roads. But buying health insurance under the new federal law is not voluntary, as you are required to buy it just by virtue of the fact that you are breathing. The federal government has never before in history exercised its regulatory power to require someone to buy a product or service as a condition of residence in the United States.”
Gingrich, though, seemed to disagree with that notion on Sunday, though he was quick to point out the differences between his plan and the federal health law.
“In, in the first place, Obama basically is trying to replace the entire insurance system, creating state exchanges, building a Washington-based model, creating a federal system,” Gingrich told NBC’s David Gregory. “I believe all of us–and this is going to be a big debate–I believe all of us have a responsibility to help pay for healthcare …”
Romney has not come under fire for not disowning his health care plan, which has caused private health care insurance rates to skyrocket as patient services have declined in Massachusetts.
Gingrich’s position quickly came under fire from several conservative blogs on Sunday.
“He tried to distinguish his mandate from the Obama mandate, but with little success,” the American Federalist Journal wrote on Sunday.
“Sandbagging your fellow Republicans in Congress and offering tacit support for a key (unconstitutional) component of Obamacare is a very strange way to begin a run in a Republican primary. Not a strong start.”
The Wall Street Journal called Gingrich’s description of an ideal healthcare plan with mandates a “pretty good description of what the Democratic Congress passed into law last year.”
The Journal continued: “Beginning in 2014, most Americans who don’t have insurance will be required to pay a fee, with many, depending on income, getting subsidies to help buy coverage through state-based exchanges.”
The conservative website Red State said Gingrich “won’t exactly endear him to the Tea Party crowd or the reform minded movement sweeping the GOP.”