Newt Gingrich slammed the House GOP budget on Meet The Press this morning, telling interviewer David Gregory that replacing Medicare with a voucher system was too “radical” an approach. His words were by far the harshest of any major presidential candidate towards Paul Ryan’s proposal on entitlements.
“I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering,” Gingrich said, calling the plan “too big a jump” for the country. “I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.”
Gingrich has distanced himself from the Ryan plan in recent weeks, calling instead for a system that would preserve the current Medicare program alongside a voluntary, privatized version. But nothing he has said came close to the full frontal assault he unleashed on his own party’s top priority in Congress.
Gingrich was asked about his own record on health care — Gregory played a clip of the then-Congressman on the show in 1993 calling for an individual mandate, the same policy that has put Mitt Romney’s candidacy in jeopardy. Like Romney, Gingrich did not disavow his support for a requirement that people maintain insurance, defending it as an effective approach.
“I’ve said consistently we ought to have some requirement you either have health insurance or you post a bond or in some way you indicate you’re going to be held accountable,” he said.
He addressed his recent attacks on President Obama as the “food stamp president,” which some critics have labeled a racial dogwhistle. In the same speech he introduced the phrase, he hinted at the idea of reinstituting poll tests, which were banned by the Voting Rights Act as a trick to suppress black voters.
Gregory asked Gingrich whether there were racial undertones to the “food stamp” phrase.
“That’s bizarre,” he said. “What I said is factually true…And to hide behind the charge of racism? I have never said anything about President Obama which is racist.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.