In a sign of trouble for Newt Gingrich among conservatives, talk-show host Glenn Beck on Tuesday pressed the Republicans’ new front-runner for president on several positions he’s taken in the past that are at odds with the GOP base, including his support for an individual mandate to buy health insurance, the 2003 expansion of Medicare, and measures to deal with climate change.
Beck said he harbors “serious concerns” about Gingrich and played on the air several of the former House speaker’s past comments that he claimed are out of step with conservative ideology. Gingrich was frequently on the defensive during Beck’s radio program.
Beck played Gingrich’s comment in 1993 that, “I am for people – individuals, just like automobile insurance – individuals having insurance and being required to have health insurance and I’m prepared to vote for a voucher system which would give individuals on a sliding scale a government subsidy so we insure that everyone as individuals has health insurance.” He also replayed Gingrich’s comments dismissing as “right-wing social engineering” a plan by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to drastically overhaul the Medicare program. Beck said, “You seem to be very interested in the government finding the solution.”
Gingrich maintained he has consistently opposed “across-the-board” government solutions, and said specifically of the Ryan proposals, “Ironically, I’d implement them next year as an optional choice.… But I wouldn’t impose it on everybody across the board.”
Pressed by Beck on his support in 2003 of a major Medicare expansion that added a prescription-drug benefit to the program, Gingrich argued that since the entitlement program had been in place for decades, it only made sense to include drugs among the covered benefits. “My position is very straightforward,” he said. “If you’re going to have Medicare, which was created in 1965 and it was created at a time when drugs didn’t matter, there weren’t many breakthroughs at that point. But to take a position that ‘we won’t help you with insulin but we’ll pay for your kidney dialysis’ is both bad at a human level and bad at a financial level.”
Of his past support for curbs on greenhouse gases, Gingrich said he once testified before Congress against cap-and-trade legislation to create a bartering system for pollution allowances among industries. And, he argued that because “there is evidence on both sides of the climate-change argument,” the government should urge development of nuclear energy and “green coal plant” technology. Many conservatives say they don’t believe the science supporting human causes of climate change.
Beck also zeroed in on Gingrich’s references to President Theodore Roosevelt, and noted that Roosevelt started the progressive party. Gingrich said he thinks some of Roosevelt’s ideas led to social advantages we take for granted today. “There are minimum regulatory standards of public health and safety that I think are really important,” he said.
“What I’m against is government trying to implement things because bureaucracy’s such a bad implementer,” he said. “And I’m against government trying to pick winners and losers.… You want to make sure for example, that if you buy certain electric things, that they don’t start fires in your house.”
The talk show host, with a large following of devoted conservative listeners, grilled Gingrich on his support for government subsidies for the ethanol industry, saying it ran counter to his claims of keeping the government from picking economic winners and losers. In his response, the onetime history professor compared government investment in ethanol to building the transcontinental railroad and the Erie Canal.
“We’ve always believed that having strong infrastructure, having a strong energy system, are net advantages because they’ve made us richer and more powerful than any country in the world,” said Gingrich, who also earned significant sums consulting for the ethanol industry after he left Congress in 1999. “What I object to is subsidizing things that don’t work and things that aren’t creating a better future. And the problem with the modern welfare state is it actually encourages people to the wrong behaviors. It encourages them not to work, it encourages them not to study.”
At the conclusion, Beck lauded Gingrich for agreeing to what was “not an easy interview.”