22 June 2012

Opposition “at every opportunity”

The New Yorker examines what I call OIP Derangement Syndrome with an article by Ezra Klein of the Washington Post on how Republicans shifted positions on the “individual mandate” for health insurance.

The approach was invented the Heritage Foundation, introduced into Congress by Republicans, pushed here in Massachusetts by Republican governor Mitt Romney, and championed as recently as 2009 by party leaders. But as soon as President Barack Obama agreed to include it in his health-insurance proposals, Republicans branded their party’s idea not only undesirable but unconstitutional.

Klein’s article highlights how Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) made an individual mandate part of a bill he designed during the Bush-Cheney administration:

“Between 2004 and 2008, I saw over eighty members of the Senate, and there were very few who objected,” Wyden says. In December, 2006, he unveiled the Healthy Americans Act. In May, 2007, Bob Bennett, a Utah Republican, who had been a sponsor of the Chafee bill [that also included the mandate], joined him. Wyden-Bennett was eventually co-sponsored by eleven Republicans and nine Democrats, receiving more bipartisan support than any universal health-care proposal in the history of the Senate. . . .

This process led, eventually, to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—better known as Obamacare—which also included an individual mandate. But, as that bill came closer to passing, Republicans began coalescing around the mandate, which polling showed to be one of the legislation’s least popular elements. In December, 2009, in a vote on the bill, every Senate Republican voted to call the individual mandate “unconstitutional.”

This shift—Democrats lining up behind the Republican-crafted mandate, and Republicans declaring it not just inappropriate policy but contrary to the wishes of the Founders—shocked Wyden. “I would characterize the Washington, D.C., relationship with the individual mandate as truly schizophrenic,” he said. . . .

Even Bob Bennett, who was among the most eloquent advocates of the mandate, voted, in 2009, to call it unconstitutional. . . . Explaining his decision to vote against the law, Bennett, who was facing a Tea Party challenger in a primary, says, “I didn’t focus on the particulars of the amendment as closely as I should have, and probably would have voted the other way if I had understood that the individual mandate was at its core. I just wanted to express my opposition to the Obama proposal at every opportunity.”
Drawing on work by professors of law, psychology, and political science, Klein explores why the Republican Party reversed course so quickly and completely on one of its own policy ideas. But at its core the opposition arose just as Bennett described it: “I just wanted to express my opposition to the Obama proposal at every opportunity.”

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