Jonathan Cohn

Pawlenty Was "Open" to Individual Mandate


Why don't I think support for an individual mandate will destroy Mitt Romney's presidential aspirations? One reason is that many of his rivals in the Republican Party have also supported a mandate -- or, at least, said awfully nice things about it.

The latest addition to that list is the man many consider Romney's chief competitor, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty. Ben Smith has the scoop:

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said in a 2006 speech that mandated health insurance was a "potentially helpful" -- but incomplete -- solution to the problem of the uninsured.

Pawlenty described a Massachusetts-style mandate in his speech as "a worthy goal and one that we're intrigued by and I think at least open to," but suggested that the central health care problem was not forcing people to buy insurance but helping them afford it. ...

the question then becomes - if you're going to require insurance -- and I think that is a worthy goal and one that we're intrigued by and I think at least open to, how then do you enable people to access the insurance?" Pawlenty said.

The answer, he suggested, was a combination of new efficiencies in health care and new subsidies, starting with a program to insure children -- a move welcomed by Minnesota Democrats at the time. He also suggested both market-based solutions aimed at enhancing competition and transparency, as well as new regulations on, particularly, drug ads.

Offering such qualified support for a mandate, in one speech, is obviously not the same thing as signing a law imposing one on your state. But with each revelation like this, it becomes more difficult for Romney's rivals to attack him over the mandate -- and more difficult for voters to hold it against him.

Of course, the real lesson here is the one about the mandate itself. There was a time when the idea had wide acceptance among conservative as well as liberal politicians. And that time wasn't very long ago.


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