Gingrich in 2006: RomneyCare has "tremendous potential"; Update: Newsletter article added

In academia, the common axiom instructs would-be professors to “publish or perish.”  In Politiciana, it’s becoming clear that the axiom is “publish and perish.”  Another newsletter might trip up a Republican presidential hopeful, but this time it isn’t Ron Paul:

Newt Gingrich voiced enthusiasm for Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health-care law when it was passed five years ago, the same plan he has been denouncing over the past few months as he campaigned for the Republican presidential nomination.

“The health bill that Governor Romney signed into law this month has tremendous potential to effect major change in the American health system,” said an April 2006 newsletter published by Mr. Gingrich’s former consulting company, the Center for Health Transformation.

The two-page “Newt Notes” analysis, found online by The Wall Street Journal even though it no longer appears on the center’s website, continued: “We agree entirely with Governor Romney and Massachusetts legislators that our goal should be 100% insurance coverage for all Americans.”

Whenever people ask me whether I will run for public office, I always respond half-jokingly that if I wanted a career in electoral politics, I wouldn’t have spent the last eight-plus years writing down my every thought on politics and policy.  This is the reason why.  It’s not that politicians shouldn’t be honest; of course they should be, on policy as well as their records.  It’s just that they so often aren’t, and voters don’t usually reward nuance, either.

So how does Newt Gingrich square this circle?  If you’ve been following the Ron Paul newsletter controversy, this is going to sound dreadfully familiar:

R.C. Hammond, a spokesman for Mr. Gingrich, said the April 2006 essay shouldn’t be read as an endorsement of Mr. Romney’s health plan. He noted that it raised several questions about the Massachusetts effort, including whether the plan would work in the state. “Being critical…isn’t endorsing it,” he said.

Mr. Hammond said the Newt Notes essay wasn’t written by Mr. Gingrich himself. The Journal was able to view a copy using a web search engine that archives old and even deleted versions of Web pages.

Well, let’s be fair.  Newt published that newsletter, and it’s almost certain that he profited from it.  That makes him responsible for what got published under his byline, does it not?  In fact, let’s recall that Gingrich attacked Paul last week for claiming not to know what Paul himself had published and sold (at a significant level of revenue).  Gingrich was right in that criticism, but it applies here as well.  For the last several months, Gingrich has attacked Romney for this plan, but now we’re supposed to ignore the fact that Gingrich’s newsletter offered significant, if somewhat qualified, praise for RomneyCare?

Nor was that the only entry in the newsletter series:

A follow-up August 2006 newsletter from the center called Mr. Romney’s plan “the most interesting effort to solve the uninsured problem in America today.” It praised “a Republican governor working with a Democratic state legislature to find a bipartisan reform that is based on market-oriented principles.”

The 2006 essays aren’t signed, but the Center for Health Transformation’s inaugural newsletter said the updates would be “periodically sent to members of the [center] from Newt, providing an insider’s view of key events and opportunities for transformation.” A sign-up page for Newt Notes now appears on the candidate’s campaign website.

These days, Gingrich attacks the plan for not hewing to free-market principles, a position with which I agree.  Perhaps Gingrich believes this honestly now, too, but it seems that his view on RomneyCare has at best evolved since 2006.

Update: Gingrich might have another document issue, but this one’s more mundane and less damning than it looks:

Newt Gingrich claims that it was his first wife, not Gingrich himself, who wanted their divorce in 1980, but court documents obtained by CNN appear to show otherwise. …

The documents, and interviews with people close to the couple at the time, contradict the Gingrich claim about who wanted the divorce.

Newt Gingrich filed a divorce complaint on July 14, 1980, in Carroll County, saying that “the marriage of the parties is irretriebably (sic) broken.”

Jackie Battley Gingrich, the congressman’s wife and the mother of Jackie Gingrich Cushman, responded by asking the judge to reject her husband’s filing.

“Defendant shows that she has adequate and ample grounds for divorce, but that she does not desire one at this time,” her petition said.

“Although defendant does not admit that this marriage is irretrievably broken, defendant has been hopeful that an arrangement for temporary support of defendant and the two minor daughters of the parties could be mutually agreed upon without the intervention of this court,” her petition said. “All efforts to date have been unsuccessful.”

That’s interesting, but not terribly enlightening.  Clearly the couple was already negotiating a split, with the first Mrs. Gingrich looking for a level of spousal and child support, without an agreement.  Getting to the court first may very well have been a strategic legal maneuver.  I’d trust the account from the Gingrich’s own daughter rather than read tea leaves via court filings on the question of who wanted out first.

Update II: ABC pulled the Newt newsletter from the Wayback Machine, and here is the RomneyCare portion in its entirety:

The most exciting development of the past few weeks is what has been happening up in Massachusetts. The health bill that Governor Romney signed into law this month has tremendous potential to effect major change in the American health system.

We agree entirely with Governor Romney and Massachusetts legislators that our goal should be 100% insurance coverage for all Americans. Individuals without coverage often do not receive quality medical attention on par with those who do have insurance. We also believe strongly that personal responsibility is vital to creating a 21st Century Intelligent Health System. Individuals who can afford to purchase health insurance and simply choose not to place an unnecessary burden on a system that is on the verge of collapse; these free-riders undermine the entire health system by placing the onus of responsibility on taxpayers.

The Romney plan attempts to bring everyone into the system. The individual mandate requires those who earn enough to afford insurance to purchase coverage, and subsidies will be made available to those individuals who cannot afford insurance on their own. We agree strongly with this principle, but the details are crucial when it comes to the structure of this plan. Under the new bill, Massachusetts residents earning more than 300% of the federal poverty level (approximately $30,000 for an individual) will not be eligible for any subsidies. State House officials had originally promised that there would be new plans available at about $200 a month, but industry experts are now predicting that the cheapest plan will likely cost at least $325 a month. This estimate totals about $4000 per year, or about 1/5 of a $30,000 annual take-home income.

While in theory the plan should be affordable if the whole state contributes to the cost, the reality is that Massachusetts has an exhaustive list of health coverage regulations prohibiting insurers from offering more basic, pared-down policies with higher deductibles. (This is yet another reminder that America must establish a cross-state insurance market that gives individuals the freedom to shop for insurance plans in states other than their own.)

In our estimation, Massachusetts residents earning little more than $30,000 a year are in jeopardy of being priced out of the system. In the event that this occurs, Governor Romney will be in grave danger of repeating the mistakes of his predecessor, Mike Dukakis, whose 1988 health plan was hailed as a save-all but eventually collapsed when poorly-devised payment structures created a malaise of unfulfilled promises. We propose that a more realistic approach might be to limit the mandate to those individuals earning upwards of $54,000 per year.

While the Commonwealth’s plan will naturally endure tremendous scrutiny from those who assert that the law will not work as intended, Massachusetts leaders are to be commended for this bipartisan proposal to tackle the enormous challenge of finding real solutions for creating a sustainable health system. I hope that Massachusetts’ initiative to provide affordable, quality health insurance for all continues to ignite even more debate around the subject of how to best address our nation’s uninsured crisis and the critical problems within the health system at large.

So once again, in 2006 this time, Gingrich “agreed strongly with this principle” in regard to the individual mandate, which he now criticizes heavily.  Perhaps he changed his mind, and there isn’t anything wrong with that, but until now we have not heard from Gingrich that he ever supported RomneyCare at all.  He needs to walk voters through that process in a manner similar to Romney’s explanation of his evolution to the pro-life position if Gingrich wants to square this circle.  Simply claiming that he didn’t write (or presumably read) his own newsletter won’t cut it.