Over at 538, Tom Schaller has an interesting interview with Newt Gingrich about both politics and policy. As you may know, Gingrich is currently promoting his latest book, titled To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine, and Tom gets him on record making some very positive noises about running for president in 2012.
Schaller starts by asking Gingrich to explain what he means by "secular-socialist machine," and his answer includes this passage, about the socialism of Barack Obama's administration:
They designed Obamacare so there’s a backdoor road to socialized medicine because it creates an incentive for companies to drop their employees. There’s evidence that hundreds of companies may drop millions of employees from their health insurance and have them go buy individual insurance. So there’s a lot of different practices that would lead us to believe this is socialist operation.
So the Affordable Care Act is "socialist," because Gingrich thinks that companies will drop employees from their health insurance, leading those employees to buy insurance on the individual market, which will after 2014 take place within the insurance exchanges. In these exchanges, private companies will compete on equal footing to get customers' business, though they will not be allowed to discriminate on the basis of pre-existing conditions, and will be subject to other regulations forcing them to treat customers fairly. Gingrich seems to think that these regulations imposed on these insurance companies are enough to constitute "socialism." Keep that idea in mind for a moment.
A momentary digression: I don't know what Gingrich is referring to when he says, "There’s evidence that hundreds of companies may drop millions of employees from their health insurance," but all employers with over 50 employees will be required to provide coverage. Maybe he's talking about small businesses, but they'll be getting subsidies to provide coverage. It's entirely possible that Gingrich either doesn't know what he's talking about, or knows but has no problem spinning out tales based on false premises (it's happened before). In any case...
After Gingrich's point about how the Affordable Care Act is socialism, Schaller asks him a logical question: "Do you consider Medicare and Social Security socialist, and why or why not?" Here's Gingrich's response:
I think that Medicare is part of the Bismarckian insurance state because it in fact pays all the money to the private sector. But I think we are going to have to dramatically reform Medicare, and increase the individual freedom and increase the individual responsibility in the system.
So to clarify: Getting your health insurance from a private-sector company through the insurance exchange, with the money being paid to private-sector health-care providers, is "socialist." Getting your insurance from the single-payer, government Medicare plan is not socialist, because the money ends up being paid to private-sector health-care providers. Got it.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Republican Party's most profound thinker and policy expert.
-- Paul Waldman