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Commentary By Avik Roy

The Newtron Entitlement Bomb

Health, Health Healthcare

Many conservatives are in no mood to forgive Mitt Romney for passing the Massachusetts health care law that became the model for Obamacare. Newt Gingrich is the latest beneficiary of this phenomenon. But those who seek a conservative candidate on health care are going backward if they choose Gingrich. Newt’s record on health care -- and especially health care entitlements -- makes even Romney’s look good.

If you think Romney is a flip-flopper, know that Newt has changed his mind at least three times this year alone on the most important fiscal challenge facing America: Medicare reform. In April, Gingrich lauded Rep. Paul Ryan’s landmark entitlement-reform bill as a “very, very, serious budget,” comparing it with what “John Kasich did as budget chairman in getting to a balanced budget in the 1990s, just for the scale and courage involved ... Paul Ryan is going to define modern conservatism at a serious level.”

Then, in May, as the Ryan budget came under fire from the Left, Gingrich blasted the Ryan plan as “right-wing social engineering” that sought to “[impose] radical change from the Right.” A few days later, after conservatives went ballistic, Gingrich backtracked, saying “I would have voted for [the Ryan plan] and [would still] ... I think [Ryan] is doing a really good job.”

Memorably, when Greta Van Susteren asked Gingrich to make sense of these three different positions, Gingrich glared, “Let me say, on the record: Any ad which quotes what I said Sunday is a falsehood.” Let it be known: If you choose to quote Gingrich accurately, you do so at your own risk.

Last week, in an interview with Ben Domenech, Gingrich was back on the offensive, describing Ryan’s plan as “suicide,” and advocating his own much more modest Medicare proposal, which in truth would make no meaningful changes to a program that is rapidly bankrupting the country.

It’s bad enough that Newt can’t make up his mind about the Ryan plan. Remember that all but four Republicans in the House voted for the Ryan budget. How are House Republicans in competitive districts supposed to rebut Democratic ads that quote Gingrich’s words against them?

Gingrich talks a good game about the evils of the welfare state and about shrinking the size of government. But budget projections consistently show that if you want to make government smaller in the long run, the only way to do it is by tackling the politically volatile issue of health care spending, especially in Medicare and Medicaid. And for all of Newt’s rhetorical fearlessness, when it comes to health policy, he’s had the courage of a mouse.

In 1993, Gingrich proposed the ultimate free-market solution to Medicare: converting the program into vouchers that seniors could use to buy private insurance. In 2011, he has moved leftward, denouncing Ryan’s more incremental reforms as too radical. Indeed, his position on Medicare reform is the least ambitious in the Republican presidential field. Gingrich insists that those who want to stay on traditional, government-run Medicare should be able to do so, without any changes. But saying we can cut back government, while letting half the budget grow at a faster rate than the economy, is a mathematical fantasy.

There are other problems with Gingrich’s health care record. He has long advocated a federal mandate forcing Americans to buy health insurance, despite its coercive nature and questionable constitutionality. He made millions, for himself and for his Center for Health Transformation, by peddling influence on Capitol Hill on health care legislation that most conservatives opposed.

For those who worry most about America’s enormous budget deficit, and who seek a leader who will rally support behind serious reforms of our health care entitlements, Gingrich would not only be the wrong choice, but a disastrous one.

This piece originally appeared in Washington Examiner

This piece originally appeared in Washington Examiner