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Wonkbook: Gingrich and Romney have the same problem

at 06:28 AM ET, 12/14/2011

So Mitt Romney is now saying Newt Gingrich is an "extremely unreliable leader in the conservative world.” This is the pot is calling the kettle a flip-flopper. The problem for Romney, of course, is that he and Gingrich share their weaknesses. They have both supported national health-care plans that included an individual mandate. They have both supported action to curb carbon emissions. Neither truly embraced Rep. Paul Ryan's budget.


Republican presidential candidates, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (L) and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), both gesture during the Republican Party presidential candidates debate at Drake University in Iowa, Dec. 10. (JEFF HAYNES - REUTERS)
And there's a reason for that. Romney and Gingrich share something important: they're wonks. Gingrich is flakier than Romney, and Romney is less creative than Gingrich, but the policies that are getting them in trouble are policies that most Republican wonks once backed. Gingrich and Romney's support for these ideas wasn't unusual. It was, at the time, typical for Republicans engaged in national policy debates.

Health-care plans including an individual mandate have been proposed or co-sponsored by Bob Dole, the Heritage Foundation, Phil Gramm, Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Richard Lugar, Judd Gregg, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Jesse Helms, Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker, Mike Crapo, and Strom Thurmond -- and that's only a partial list. In 2008, Jim DeMint endorsed Mitt Romney for president, and specifically mentioned his health-care plan as one of Romney's qualifications. The Republican Party has since turned on the individual mandate. But if past support for the policy is a conservative litmus test, then Phil Gramm, Jesse Helms and the Heritage Foundation are no longer conservatives in good standing. And that's absurd.

A similar case can be made on cap-and-trade. The 2008 McCain-Palin ticket had a cap-and-trade plan. In fact, the first cap-and-trade plan considered by the Senate was introduced by McCain in 2003 -- and McCain, of course, went on to become the Republican Party's nominee for president.

This is why Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman also had their flirtations with cap-and-trade plans and individual mandates. They may not have inhaled, but they were at the party. And everyone was doing it.

At the end of the day, the GOP will nominate somebody for president. And that individual is likely to have supported some policies that are now associated with President Obama. There will be some groveling, but eventually, Republicans will forgive such youthful indiscretions. The bigger problem will be if that individual wins.

At that point, they'll need actual solutions for the problems facing the nation. But the Republican Party has ruled out an individual mandate to help with health-care reform, a cap-and-trade program to mitigate global warming and speed the development of renewable energy options, tax increases to help reduce the deficit, and stimulus to help boost the economy. That leaves a potential GOP president with a lot of problems to solve, but few workable policies with which to solve them.

Top stories

1) Romney is attacking Gingrich's conservative credentials, report Dan Balz and Philip Rucker: "Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney blasted rival Newt Gingrich Tuesday as an 'extremely unreliable leader in the conservative world' who has taken positions in this campaign that should give GOP voters pause as they consider their choices for the party’s nomination...Romney repeatedly cited what Gingrich has said about the Medicare reform proposal authored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. Earlier this year he dismissed it as 'right-wing social engineering' and in an interview released Tuesday called it political 'suicide,' given limited public support for the plan. He also opened a new line of attack by personally criticizing Gingrich for having made a television commercial in 2008 with then-House Speaker and current Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi promoting a global warming campaign."

2) The payroll tax cut fight is raising the possibility of a shutdown, report Rosalind Helderman and Felicia Sonmez: "Prospects for a year-end congressional compromise on key tax and spending legislation grew more complicated Tuesday, as the Republican House passed a controversial version of a payroll tax cut extension despite a veto threat from the White House. The increasingly contentious tax dispute threatens to derail what had been an emerging compromise on separate legislation to fund the government through next September, raising the specter of a possible government shutdown this weekend if the conflict is not resolved by Friday. Approved on a vote of 234 to 193, the Republican tax bill would extend a one-year break in the payroll tax..But it also would accelerate the construction of an oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast that the White House is determined to slow down."

3) The Fed isn't taking additional action now, reports Neil Irwin: "Federal Reserve policymakers said Tuesday that the economy is 'expanding moderately' and declined to take any new measures to try to strengthen growth, electing to leave the central bank’s low-interest-rate policies in place...In effect, the central bank concluded that the economy -- on track to post its strongest growth in the final months of 2011 than in any previous quarter this year -- is muddling along well enough. Eyeing that emerging economic stability, the Fed has rejected taking more unconventional steps to strengthen it, such as buying hundreds of billions of dollars worth of securities using newly created money. At least one official, Chicago Federal Reserve President Charles Evans, disagreed. Evans dissented from the decision for the second straight meeting, preferring that the Fed take more action to ease monetary policy and support growth."

4) The IMF says Greece is falling behind on economic reforms, reports Howard Schneider: "Greece’s international rescue program continues to slip as the nation’s leaders shirk promised changes, investors flee a beleaguered banking system and concern that Europe will fall into recession adds to the pressure, the International Monetary Fund said Tuesday in its latest report on the country. Even as European leaders cope with a broader set of financial and political problems within the region, the IMF report highlighted how issues at the epicenter of the crisis are unresolved more than 18 months into a Greek rescue program that by now was supposed to be making some headway. Instead, IMF Greece mission chief Poul Thomsen said that the Greek economy will shrink by about 6 percent this year -- more than twice the rate expected when the three-year bailout was approved in May 2010 -- and will continue contracting through 2012."

Top op-eds

1) A fundamental economic shift caused both the Great Depression and the current recession, writes Joe Stiglitz: "The inability of the monetary expansion to counteract this current recession should forever lay to rest the idea that monetary policy was the prime culprit in the 1930s. The problem today, as it was then, is something else. The problem today is the so-called real economy. It’s a problem rooted in the kinds of jobs we have, the kind we need, and the kind we’re losing, and rooted as well in the kind of workers we want and the kind we don’t know what to do with. The real economy has been in a state of wrenching transition for decades, and its dislocations have never been squarely faced. A crisis of the real economy lies behind the Long Slump, just as it lay behind the Great Depression...Back then we were moving from agriculture to manufacturing. Today we are moving from manufacturing to a service economy."

2) We don't have enough good fixes for what ails the economy, writes Ezra Klein: "The Supreme Court presents a significant challenge to all but the most modest of campaign-finance reforms, and though the wanton deployment of the filibuster has rendered both parties nearly incapable of governing, there’s little congressional support for reforms that would allow majorities to actually pass the policies they’ve promised voters. And even if the magic wand could be waved and the blockages of Washington lifted, we would still be far from solving our economic problems. Think tanks fairly burst with good ideas for changing the tax code and improving the health-care system and rebuilding our infrastructure. But when it comes to explaining why, exactly, median incomes have stagnated for decades and what, exactly, we can do about it, the conversation gets a little quieter."

3) We can save the environment by changing how businesses operate, write Al Gore and David Blood: "Before the crisis and since, we and others have called for a more responsible form of capitalism, what we call sustainable capitalism: a framework that seeks to maximize long-term economic value by reforming markets to address real needs while integrating environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics throughout the decision-making process. Such sustainable capitalism applies to the entire investment value chain--from entrepreneurial ventures to large public companies, seed-capital providers to institutional investors, employees to CEOs, activists to policy makers. It transcends borders, industries, asset classes and stakeholders...Companies and investors that integrate sustainability into their business practices are finding that it enhances profitability over the longer term."

4) The FDA should be an independent agency, writes Daniel Carpenter: "The unilateral decision last week by Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, to block the Plan B One-Step contraceptive pill from being sold to adolescents without a prescription is shocking in more ways than one. Not only was it unexpected, but for the first time in American history, a cabinet secretary -- and by extension, a president -- has overruled a drug-approval decision by the Food and Drug Administration. The precedent risks placing the real power for drug approval not just with a cabinet secretary, but with the White House itself. The only solution, then, is to make the F.D.A. truly independent. Americans have already done this, through the Federal Reserve, to protect our money supply from political meddling; it’s time to do it for drugs."

Cover song interlude: Ryan Adams plays "Blue Thunder" by Galaxie 500.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Still to come: Britain's veto of the proposed EU treaty change is drawing fire; the House passed a doc fix; the House and Senate have agreed on defense cuts; a grand jury is looking into Solyndra; and the cutest Taekwondo fight you'll ever see.

Economy

Britain's veto of an EU proposal is drawing criticism, reports Anthony Faiola: "European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said London’s refusal to compromise left the rest of Europe no choice but to move ahead without it, while another official warned that Britain...must still submit to regional regulations, like it or not. The comments underscored the widespread resentment in Europe over Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision Friday to veto a summit deal for a new treaty among the 27 E.U. members. The deal would have, among other things, outlined strict, enforceable limits on government spending and borrowing throughout the bloc. Cameron’s opposition left 26 E.U. nations agreeing to form a new treaty without Britain’s participation, and sparked a political firestorm in London. Cameron’s deputy prime minister said that the move risked making Britain 'a pygmy' in the world by isolating it from the rest of Europe."

Jon Corzine allegedly knew more than he's letting on, reports Suzy Khimm: "The head of the private exchange tasked with overseeing MF Global said Tuesday that Jon Corzine may have been aware of a transfer of client funds from the firm he formerly led, possibly contradicting the former governor and senator’s statements under oath that he had no knowledge of the events that resulted in the disappearance of $1.2 billion in customer funds. In a hearing before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Terrence A. Duffy, the chief executive of CME Group, said a senior female executive of MF Global told a CME auditor that Corzine -- the former chief executive officer and chairman of the firm -- was aware of a $175 million loan of customer money to a European affiliate of the now-bankrupt commodities brokerage."

Too aggressive patent enforcement hurts consumers, write Colleen Chien and Mark Lemley: "On Wednesday, in a case closely watched both by analysts and retailers, the International Trade Commission will decide whether the handset maker HTC should be allowed to import its products into the United States. The controversy? A claim by Apple that HTC infringed on two of the estimated 250,000 patents covering smartphone technology. If the commission agrees, it is likely to issue an 'exclusion order,' which would in effect say 'keep out' (of the United States) to HTC’s Android phones during the Christmas season. It’s cases like this that have many people concerned that soon judicial decisions, rather than consumers, will decide what products make it onto Santa’s sleigh...Shutting out imports of an infringing product is not always the right answer."

Adorable children pulling combo breakers interlude: Two babies have a Taekwondo fight.

Health Care

The House passed a doc fix, reports Julian Pecquet: "The House voted 234-193 Tuesday evening to approve a payroll tax extenders package that includes a two-year 'fix' to the formula for Medicare payments to doctors. President Obama has threatened to veto the legislation, which is expected to die in the Democrat-controlled Senate on Wednesday. Without congressional action on the Sustainable Growth Rate, physicians will see a 27.4 percent cut to their Medicare rates starting Jan. 1. House Democrats opposed among things some of the offsets for the $38 billion fix, including raising Medicare premiums on seniors by 15 percent starting in 2017 and slashing the healthcare reform law's Prevention and Public Health Fund by $8 billion. Only 10 Democrats ended up supporting the bill."

A bipartisan CLASS replacement is taking shape, reports Julian Pecquet: "The Republican sponsor of legislation to repeal the healthcare reform law's CLASS Act is teaming up with a pro-reform Democrat to offer alternative long-term-care legislation...Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) and Richard Neal (D-Mass.) are expected to unveil their legislation as early as this week. Neal, who narrowly lost the race to be the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee in 2010, voted for the healthcare reform law both times it came up in the House. The long-term-care bill would allow consumers to buy long-term-care policies through tax-free employer cafeteria plans and flexible spending arrangements, according to a draft...It also improves consumer protections for long-term-care policyholders and requires more public-private coordination and accountability from the Department of Health and Human Services."

Senate Democrats are splitting with the administration on Plan B, reports Sam Baker: "Fourteen Senate Democrats publicly broke with the White House on Tuesday over the Plan B contraceptive. The senators, led by Patty Murray (D-Wash.), asked Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to spell out her scientific rationale for overruling scientists last week who said Plan B, also known as the morning-after pill, should be made available without a prescription to women of all ages. 'On behalf of the millions of women we represent, we want to be assured that this and future decisions affecting women’s health will be based on medical and scientific evidence,' the senators wrote in a letter to Sebelius. The 14 senators’ letter deepens a growing rift among Democrats over Plan B. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) was openly critical of the decision."

Newt Gingrich used to support comparative effectiveness research, and rightly so, writes Jonathan Cohn: "The title of the article was 'How to Take American Health Care from Worst to First' and it was actually a collaboration by Gingrich, Kerry, and Billy Beane. If you follow baseball or read (or saw) Moneyball then you are familiar with Beane. He’s the revered general manager of the Oakland Atheletics who helped pioneer the use of 'sabermetrics.'..The writers suggested that doctors and hospitals could apply a similar approach to medical care, using statistics to provide treatments that did more for less money. The only problem, Gingrich and his collaborators pointed out, was the lack of good data...Ever since Obama started talking up the concept of researching the effectiveness of treatments, back in 2009, prominent Republicans and their allies have been attacking it, suggesting it is a first step towards the rationing of health care and denial of care to the sick and elderly."

Domestic Policy

The House and Senate have agreed on Pentagon cuts, reports Walter Pincus: "House and Senate conferees agreed on $662.4 billion for the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill, about $26.6 billion below the president’s original request, reflecting the level of reductions in national security spending required under August’s budget agreement. Almost all the cuts were made in the Pentagon’s core budget, with only $2.3 billion coming out of funds for Afghanistan and Iraq, and $1.2 billion from the nuclear weapons program. Conferees from the House and Senate Armed Services committees made significant changes to hundreds of budget items, from military aid for Pakistan to the electromagnetic railgun project, an effort to weaponize electromagnetic pulses -- something Republican candidate Newt Gingrich referred to in a recent presidential debate."

Eric Holder delivered a speech criticizing new voter ID laws, reports Josh Gerstein: "Under increasing pressure from civil rights groups to take action against a wave of state voter identification laws, Attorney General Eric Holder issued a public warning Tuesday that the new laws could disenfranchise minority voters, but he stopped short of promising the broad legal crackdown many activists are seeking. 'It is time to ask: What kind of nation and what kind of people do we want to be? Are we willing to allow this era -- our era -- to be remembered as the age when our nation’s proud tradition of expanding the franchise ended?' Holder said in a speech at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum in Austin, Texas. This year, eight states have passed laws that require voters to show identification at the polls. Two of those states, South Carolina and Texas, need so-called pre-clearance from the Justice Department or a court."

A federal regulator wants states to ban cell phone use while driving, reports Ashley Halsey: "The National Transportation Safety Board recommended Tuesday that all states and the District ban cellphone use behind the wheel, becoming the first federal agency to call for an outright prohibition on telephone conversations while driving. Distracted driving, some of it due to cellphone use, contributed to an estimated 3,092 deaths in highway crashes last year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration...The independent NTSB has neither the legislative muscle of Congress nor the regulatory power of the White House, but as the nation’s leading federal safety advocate its recommendations carry weight in both places. Its recommendations also provide political cover if Congress or the administration wants to take on the powerful cellphone industry lobby and an American public addicted to cellphones and other forms of electronic communication."

Dance interlude: SNL's Taran Killam recreates the music video to Robyn's "Call Your Girlfriend".

Energy

A grand jury is investigating Solyndra, reports Darren Samuelsohn: "A grand jury has been investigating Solyndra for at least two months, according to billing records from the law firm defending the bankrupt California solar company. Solyndra retained K&L Gates as it faces a federal criminal probe into its handling of a $535 million loan guarantee from the Energy Department. According to an 18-page document that K&L Gates filed Friday with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware, Solyandra attorneys have been in contact more than two dozen times with the U.S. Attorney's Office, as well as the FBI. The K&L Gates invoice -- detailing $146,037 in fees charged by the Bay Area law firm -- refers multiple times to its attorneys dealing with a grand jury. The first mention comes at an Oct. 9 session when Jeffrey Bornstein billed Solyndra $384 in part for reviewing a grand jury subpoena."

States are toughening up their fracking rules, report Russell Gold and Stephanie Simon: "Colorado and Texas adopted rules Tuesday that require oil and natural-gas companies to disclose the chemicals they inject underground in the drilling technique known as fracking. The rules are part of a broader effort by states to show they are serious about regulating the rapidly expanding hydraulic fracturing ahead of possible new federal rules governing chemical disclosure, water disposal, air emissions and well construction...Arkansas and Wyoming have previously adopted frack-fluid disclosure rules. New York state has also proposed new rules. Next month, the federal government is expected to issue guidelines for disposal of water used in fracking, and the Interior Department later will publish rules governing such operations on public lands."

Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Dylan Matthews and Michelle Williams.

 
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