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Opposed to Even Their Own Ideas

February 16, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

For much of last year, the requirement in the Democrats’ health care bills (Senate and House versions) that all individuals have some form of insurance coverage was considered part of the 80% or so of the bill that had bipartisan support. But after the August town hall protests, the so-called individual mandate started to become more and more the target of conservative scorn.

Republican members of Congress, who only weeks earlier had spoken out in favor of the mandate, began backtracking in the fall and turned against the idea.

NPR’s Julie Rovner today has a great piece on the history of the individual mandate idea.

For Republicans, the idea of requiring every American to have health insurance is one of the most abhorrent provisions of the Democrats’ health overhaul bills.

“Congress has never crossed the line between regulating what people choose to do and ordering them to do it,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). “The difference between regulating and requiring is liberty.”

But Hatch’s opposition is ironic, or some would say, politically motivated. The last time Congress debated a health overhaul, when Bill Clinton was president, Hatch and several other senators who now oppose the so-called individual mandate actually supported a bill that would have required it.

In fact, says Len Nichols of the New America Foundation, the individual mandate was originally a Republican idea. “It was invented by Mark Pauly to give to George Bush Sr. back in the day, as a competition to the employer mandate focus of the Democrats at the time.”

Rovner notes that four current Republican senators — Sen. Orrin Hatch [R, UT], Sen. Charles Grassley [R, IA], Sen. Christopher Bond [R, MO] and Sen. Robert Bennett [R, UT] — were actually co-sponsors of a health care bill in the ’90s that contained an individual mandate. In December 2009, all four voted to sustain a point of order against the current health care bill that sought to declare the individual mandate unconstitutional.

Yesterday, Sen. Evan Bayh [D, IN], giving his reasons for retiring despite a 20 point lead in the pools heading into the his election, said of Congress, “There is much too much partisanship and not enough progress. Too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem solving.” Rovner’s piece is a great example of how these dynamics have played into the health care debate in the past year. Read the whole thing.

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