Audio: Newt responds, says conservatives are taking him out of context; Update: Newt's statement

Did Newt Gingrich get misunderstood in his appearance on Meet the Press yesterday? That’s what Gingrich told Mike Gallagher this morning in a lengthy interview that aired live on Gallagher’s Salem Radio show. Gingrich says that conservatives have taken his remarks out of context, although he admits that the “social engineering” may have been a little too strong. He tells Gallagher that his response was to David Gregory’s question about whether Republicans should force a Medicare reform over public opposition, saying it would be the same “social engineering” mistake Democrats made with ObamaCare:

Well … maybe.  Let’s take a look at the transcript from yesterday’s MTP appearance and give the entire question and answer series.  This was the entire exchange on Medicare and Medicaid, ellipses in the original:

MR. GREGORY:What about entitlements? The Medicare trust fund, in stories that have come out over the weekend, is now going to be depleted by 2024 , five years earlier than predicted. Do you think that Republicans ought to buck the public opposition and really move forward to completely change Medicare , turn it into a voucher program where you give seniors…


MR. GREGORY:…some premium support and — so that they can go out and buy private insurance ?

REP. GINGRICH:I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left- wing social engineering . I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate. I think we need a national conversation to get to a better Medicare system with more choices for seniors. But there are specific things you can do . At the Center for Health Transformation , which I helped found, we published a book called ” Stop Paying the Crooks .” We thought that was a clear enough, simple enough idea, even for Washington . We — between Medicare and Medicaid , we pay between $70 billion and $120 billion a year to crooks. And IBM has agreed to help solve it, American Express has agreed to help solve it, Visa ‘s agreed to help solve it. You can’t get anybody in this town to look at it. That’s, that’s almost $1 trillion over a decade. So there are things you can do to improve Medicare .

MR. GREGORY:But not what Paul Ryan is suggesting, which is completely changing Medicare .

REP. GINGRICH:I, I think that, I think, I think that that is too big a jump. 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 the — I don’t want to — I’m against Obamacare , which is imposing radical change , and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change .

Gingrich has an argument, but not a terribly convincing one.  Two weeks ago, Gingrich called the same plan “brave” and said he’d vote for it.  American public opposition to Medicare reform hasn’t undergone some sort of tectonic (or Teutonic!) shift in that period.  While Gregory in part posed the initial question as one of political strategy in the face of public opposition, the follow-up question was about Ryan’s plan specifically — which Gingrich called “radical,” although framing it once again in terms of “imposing” solutions.

Besides, the oncoming entitlement disaster can’t be avoided with incremental adjustments to the current system.  His argument on waste, abuse, and fraud is not a bad point, but it’s entirely insufficient as a solution.  Medicare will cost us a lot more than $1 trillion over the next decade in deficit spending — and Ryan’s plan makes the “waste, fraud, and abuse” a problem for insurers and the private sector to handle.

Update: Newt’s campaign put out a very brief statement on video a few minutes ago:

I am completely opposed to the Obamacare mandate on individuals. I fought it for two and half years at the Center for Health Transformation. You can see all the things we did to stop it at I am for the repeal of Obamacare and I am against any effort to impose a federal mandate on anyone because it is fundamentally wrong and I believe unconstitutional.

Daniel Foster at The Corner points out that Gingrich wasn’t nearly as categorical yesterday on the general topic of mandates, emphases his:

DAVID GREGORY: Now I know you’ve got big differences with what you call Obamacare, but back in 1993 on this program this is what you said about the individual mandate. Watch.

GINGRICH ON VIDEO [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 ensure that everyone as individuals have health insurance.” . . .

DAVID GREGORY: You agree with Mitt Romney on this point?

NEWT GINGRICH: Well, I agree that all of us have a responsibility to pay — help pay for health care. And, and I think that there are ways to do it that make most libertarians relatively happy. I’ve said consistently we ought to have some requirement that you either have health insurance or you post a bond. . . .

DAVID GREGORY: But that is the individual mandate, is it not?

NEWT GINGRICH: It’s a variation on it.

We seem to have to parse terms a lot in order to agree that Gingrich got misunderstood yesterday, and I don’t think that voters are in a mood to mince words.