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Tom Murse

Many Republicans Backed Individual Mandate Before Opposing It

By July 13, 2012

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The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives this week voted for the 33rd time since January 2011 to repeal some or all of the health care reforms signed into law by President Barack Obama. All the while GOP lawmakers, who despise the individual mandate, insisted they were not being obstructionist.

Here's an interesting bit of historical context, though: Lots of Republicans, including President George H.W. Bush and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, thought an individual mandate requiring Americans to buy health insurance was a pretty good idea two decades ago. They thought it was a sound alternative to a single-payer plan.

That was then. This is now. So what's changed?

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The party in control of the White House, for one, and the willingness of the parties to compromise, for another, says former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger, a Republican from Minnesota. "The main thing that's changed is the definition of a Republican," he told Kaiser Health News in 2010.

Durenberger was among nearly two dozen cosponsors of a the Health Equity and Access Reform Today Act introduced by Republicans in the U.S. Senate in 1993. The legislation was written by Republican U.S. Sen. John Chafee of Rhose Island.

The bill would have given vouchers to poor Americans so they could afford health insurance, and penalized those who did not purchase coverage. It was introduced as an alternative to President Bill Clinton's proposal requiring employers to insure their workers.

The bill never passed, even though Bush had called for insuring every American in his State of the Union address a year earlier. When he ran for U.S. Senate in 1994, Romney told reporter for The New Republic that he would have supported the Chafee bill, individual mandate and all.

"I'm willing to vote for things that I am not wild with," Romney told the publication.

Romney's comment on the federal legislation is important because it indicates a shift in opinion since his days as governor of Massachusetts, when he signed a health care bill containing an individual mandate into law. He has insisted the issue is a matter for states, and that the Obama health care reforms are an overreach by the federal government.

"I would never do what President Obama did, which is usurp the power of the states and replace it with an overreaching federal government hand," Romney has said. "That's the wrong way."

Look for Romney's earlier support of the federal individual mandate, and his current opposition to the provision, to be an issue in the fall presidential debates. Should make for interesting fodder, shouldn't it?

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