Former Speaker of the House and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is disappointed in his fellow Republicans: while the GOP has put up a tough resistance against the healthcare reform championed by President Barack Obama — leading nearly 40 attempts to repeal or defund all or parts of the legislation known as Obamacare — the party has yet to develop a better alternative. Last Tuesday, speaking at the opening session of a four-day gathering of the Republican National Committee in Boston, he alleged that Republicans had failed to uphold the “replace” portion of the “repeal-and-replace” pledge the party made soon after the Affordable Care Act was first passed in March 2010.
Republicans have “zero answer” regarding a replacement for Obamacare, he said. “If we’re going to take on the fight with Obamacare, we have to be able to explain to people what we would do to make your life better,” he continued. And that’s the problem: the Republican party cannot answer that question.
The president levied a similar accusation at Republicans earlier this month: at a White House news briefing on August 9, he said that the one unifying principle in the Republican Party “is making sure that 30 million people don’t have health care.” The problem is not just that the Republican Party wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but that they have no counter proposal. “At least they used to say, well, we’re going to replace it with something better,” he continued. “There’s not even a pretense now that they’re going to replace it with something better.”
Recent surveys of public opinion show a similar concern. While the Democrats’ signature healthcare initiative remains persistently unpopular among the American people, Republicans have not been able to take advantage of the opportunity the widespread opposition to the law has given the party. A poll conducted by the Morning Consult found that voters trust Democrats more than Republicans on healthcare issues by a margin of 10 percent.
There is irony in Gingrich’s critique, and that irony explains why their is a hole in the Republican’s policy agenda. The healthcare plan laid out by Gingrich in his 2008 book, entitled “Real Change,” was very similar to Obamacare. He wrote that the government should “insist that everyone above a certain level buy coverage,” while providing “tax credits or [subsidizing] private insurance for the poor.” That suggestion is essentially an individual mandate, the core provision of the Affordable Care Act. After the much-publicized Republican criticism of the healthcare reform, it may seem surprising that Gingrich suggested a similar proposal, but many Republicans once supported that type of healthcare reform. In fact, the governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, signed a similar plan into law.
Given that past, Republicans could have seen Obamacare as a victory — because Democrats adopted their proposal rather than pushing forward with a single-payer program — and then worked with the opposition to achieve a final reform that would be closer to what the party originally envisioned. But instead Republicans chose to fight the individual mandate, which as Gingrich argued is just the problem. “We are caught up right now in a culture — and you see it every single day — where as long as we are negative and as long as we are vicious and as long as we can tear down our opponent, we don’t have to learn anything,” he said.
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