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So much for Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels being the last, best hope for fiscal conservatives in 2012.
Daniels was my choice for the 2012 Republican nomination until I heard an interview RealClearPolitics.com dug up from his days as political director for the Reagan White House. Imagine the individual mandate morphed with the public option, and that’s what Daniels supported in 1987.
When Robert Novak, famed journalist and cohost of “Evans and Novak” on CNN, asked Daniels if federal health insurance for catastrophic illnesses should be a GOP agenda item, he replied, “I sure do, and I’m glad you asked.”
If Gov. Mitt Romney should lose his credentials as a fiscal conservative for instituting an individual mandate and an insurance program to cover the poor in Massachusetts, Daniels ought to lose his credentials for trying to nationalize health insurance.
Short stature and a receding hairline aren’t Daniels’ only obstacles to the nomination. He must explain how someone who supports free-market economics could ever be in favor of socialized insurance.
For a guy who, in March 2010, criticized Obamacare in the Wall Street Journal by saying, “We better start adjusting to our new status as good Europeans,” his stance in 1987 sounds pretty European.
But maybe, like Romney on many issues, Daniels has had a change of heart on health care. In his piece for the Journal, he advocates for a host of conservative reforms that “[s]hift to a system that allows individuals – not businesses – to buy health insurance tax free.”
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He also opposes the way Obamacare removes power from the states, mainly because it would destroy his Healthy Indiana Plan. In this program, Daniels instituted a health savings account (HSA) system for public workers that he has since expanded to cover the poor in Indiana.
Daniels’ record on health care as governor is almost spotless, but, just like with Romney, his full record leaves serious doubts. The fact is, both the new Romney and the new Daniels have the same new positions on health care.
But Romney never helped create a federal health-care entitlement program.
In the 1987 interview, Daniels justified his support for nationalized insurance because it would be politically advantageous for Republicans to create their own entitlement program like Social Security.
“The biggest problem we faced in this election (1986), over half the Senate elections held, the No. 1 issue for the Democrats was Social Security and care of the elderly. This (federal health insurance) is a grass-roots issue of importance to 50 million Americans.”
Daniels saw that Democratic government handouts were popular and proposed that the GOP create their own, despite the budgetary consequences.
He carried this idea of a Republican entitlement program to the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush, where he aided in launching Medicare Part D – $60 billion worth of annual deficit spending.
In 1987, he wanted to create a health-care entitlement program to garner more votes, and when he became budget director in 2001, the Bush administration created a health-care entitlement targeted at attracting the elderly vote.
This program – along with the national-security crisis, lagging revenues and numerous spending bills like No Child Left Behind – helped turn a $236 billion surplus into a $400 billion deficit during Daniels’ term as budget director.
And this is the guy we want to reform entitlements and cut the budget?
The start of our budget troubles began under Daniels’ guidance, so it would be tough to trust him to solve our debt crisis. Looking at his record as governor, he could do it, but his problem is credibility.
If Daniels were to be the nominee, Obama could easily tie him to Bush and paint him as a hypocrite on deficit spending. Even worse, when Daniels would try to take on Obamacare, the president could point to Daniels’ leftist plan from 1987.
It’s tough to criticize the president for creating a health-care entitlement, when Daniels advocated for and helped launch a health-care entitlement of his own.
Daniels would be debating uphill on what will probably be the two most important issues of the 2012 campaign: budget entitlement reform and health care.
His only hope at this point is to try and disavow his connection with Medicare Part D and pray people forgive his past statements on health care. Next, he needs to advocate for rolling back the spending he helped foster during the Bush years.
Until then, conservatives should keep his name off the short list for 2012. While nominating anyone besides Gov. Chris Christie should be considered settling, let’s not settle for someone who’s inconsistent on the most important issues.
Ron Meyer is a senior at Principia College. He hosts the “We the People” Internet radio show and is a contributor to The Daily Caller. He has appeared on Fox News, and his writing appears frequently in The Christian Science Monitor, Yahoo! News, Human Events and AOL News.