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Mr. Hatch's Hilarious Health Care Hypocrisy

July 1, 2012

Congressional Republicans on Thursday dispatched some of their best and brightest to the Supreme Court in heady anticipation of the GOP triumph that never came. But when Chief Justice Roberts announced the decision upholding the Affordable Care Act, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch "folded his arms across his chest, his mouth slightly agape." His slack-jawed response was altogether fitting. After all, the same Orrin Hatch who now describes so-called Obamacare as unconstitutional and "an awful piece of crap" in 1993 co-sponsored legislation with an individual mandate at its center. And as it turns out, while he and his GOP colleagues are now protesting how the Affordable Care Act is funded, Hatch acknowledged that when President Bush signed the $400 billion Medicare prescription drug program into law, "It was standard practice not to pay for things."
On Thursday, Orrin Hatch issued not one but two press releases bemoaning the Supremes health care reform decision. Back in March, Senator Hatch authored an op-ed in which he argued that "Obamacare carries too high a price in liberty" and complained that "forcing [the] purchase of health insurance [is] not grounded in Constitution." And as he bragged in his statement last week:

Hatch has championed efforts in Congress to repeal the health law. He has supported legislation to repeal the law in its entirety as well as introduced legislation to repeal: the unconstitutional individual mandate (S. 19); the job-crushing employer mandate (S.20); and the medical device tax (S. 17).

Of course, back in 1993, he and 20 co-sponsors proposed almost identical provisions as part of the "Health Equity and Access Reform Today Act of 1993." (For more background, Kaiser Health News has a convenient summary of that bill, as well as a handy chart comparing its features to the "Obamacare" legislation it resembles.) As NPR documented in February 2010:

Hatch's opposition is ironic, or some would say, politically motivated. The last time Congress debated a health overhaul, when Bill Clinton was president, Hatch and several other senators who now oppose the so-called individual mandate actually supported a bill that would have required it...
[T]he summary of the Republican bill from the Clinton era and the Democratic bills that passed the House and Senate over the past few months are startlingly alike.
Beyond the requirement that everyone have insurance, both call for purchasing pools and standardized insurance plans. Both call for a ban on insurers denying coverage or raising premiums because a person has been sick in the past. Both even call for increased federal research into the effectiveness of medical treatments -- something else that used to have strong bipartisan support, but that Republicans have been backing away from recently.

Alas, that was then and this is now. And now that Democrats have succeeded in passing health care reform along the lines he once advocated, Orrin Hatch has had a born-again experience as to its constitutionality. His turnabout, he feebly explained to NBC's Andrea Mitchell just days after President Obama signed the ACA into law, was all about politics:

MITCHELL: Now, it was first proposed or one of the earlier proposals along these lines was in 1993 when you and other Republicans came up with counteroffers to the Clinton White House and the individual mandate was perfectly acceptable to Republicans back then.
HATCH: Well, it really wasn't. We were fighting Hillarycare at that time. And I don't think anyone centered on it, I certainly didn't. That was 17 years ago. But since then, and with the advent of this particular bill, really seeing how much they're depending on an unconstitutional approach to it, yea, naturally I got into it, got into it on this issue.

(Hatch wasn't alone in his comic reversal. His co-sponsor and current Senate colleague Chuck Grassley (R-IA) similarly announced that "If it was unconstitutional today, it was unconstitutional in 1993, but I don't think anybody gave it much thought until three or four months ago when you start looking at what constitutional lawyers say about it because constitutional lawyers wouldn't have been looking at the mandate for health insurance until it became an issue and it just became an issue lately." During the height of the health care battle in the summer of 2009, Grassley was among the first to claim the Affordable Care Act would "pull the plug on grandma." And in August 2009, just weeks before Orrin Hatch eulogized Ted Kennedy as "one of my closest friends in the world," Senator Grassley insisted Obamacare would mean the cancer-stricken Kennedy "would not get the care he gets here because of his age.")
In any event, with the 2010 Democratic health care reform having withstood constitutional muster, Orrin Hatch and his GOP allies are now focused on its $1 trillion price tag. Here, too, Hatch is running into trouble with his past words- and votes.
For starters, Hatch has to deal with his own admission that President Obama and the Democrats actually care about paying for their health care reforms. As for President Bush and the Congressional Republicans who passed the $400 billion Medicare drug benefit in 2003, not so much. As the AP reported in 2009:

Six years ago, "it was standard practice not to pay for things," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "We were concerned about it, because it certainly added to the deficit, no question." His 2003 vote has been vindicated, Hatch said, because the prescription drug benefit "has done a lot of good."

Just as damning, contrary to this week's Republican talking points, the penalty for failing to obtain insurance is not the "biggest tax increase in history." (The CBO estimates that only four million people will pay it, producing $65 billion in revenue over ten years.) Most of the roughly $500 billion in new taxes will come from businesses and households earning over $250,000 a year. As for Orrin Hatch's complaint about the $529 billion in future Medicare savings the ACA reaps primarily from providers, those same changes are part of the Paul Ryan budget proposal which garnered the votes of 235 House Republicans and 40 GOP Senators. Including, of course, Orrin Hatch.

Ultimately, of course, Orrin Hatch's embarrassing contortions on health care in general and the individual mandate in particular have little to do with public policy and everything to do with politics. The GOP was never really concerned about a "government takeover of health care", "rationing", "the doctor-patient relationship" or mythical "death panels," but that an American public grateful for access to health care could provide Democrats with an enduring majority for years to come. Hatch admitted as much in a November 2009 interview with CBN:

HATCH: That's their goal. Move people into government that way. Do it in increments. They've actually said it. They've said it out loud.
Q: This is a step-by-step approach --
HATCH: A step-by-step approach to socialized medicine. And if they get there, of course, you're going to have a very rough time having a two-party system in this country, because almost everybody's going to say, "All we ever were, all we ever are, all we ever hope to be depends on the Democratic Party."
Q: They'll have reduced the American people to dependency on the federal government.
HATCH: Yeah, you got that right. That's their goal. That's what keeps Democrats in power.

To put it another way, Republicans like Orrin Hatch aren't worried that Democratic health care reform might fail, but that it will succeed.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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