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Lessons From The Individual Mandate For Republicans Seeking A Resurgence Today

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In a few weeks, health care will once again take center stage at the Supreme Court. In what has become a semi-regular occurrence, the justices will soon rule on a case focused on two central questions: Whether Congress’ 2017 decision to set Obamacare’s individual mandate tax to $0 renders the mandate unconstitutional, and if so, what if any other parts of Obamacare should fall with it.

In advance of the impending ruling, John McDonough recently wrote a history of the individual mandate over the past 30-plus years in a lengthy essay for Politico. McDonough, a Massachusetts native who worked for Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., during the debate on Obamacare, supports the law, and the state-level efforts in Massachusetts (a.k.a. “Romneycare”) that preceded it.

Despite, or perhaps because of, his liberal perspective, McDonough highlights the fact that the movement that led to the mandate’s enactment originally started on the right, with the Heritage Foundation. The essay provides another in-depth reminder of the need for conservative organizations to promote conservative policies. It’s an important lesson for thinkers on the right to remember as they create plans to counter the Biden administration.

Alternative to ‘HillaryCare’

McDonough focuses on Stuart Butler, Heritage’s erstwhile senior analyst for domestic policy. Butler, who now works at the Brookings Institution, promoted the mandate concept beginning in the late 1980s; it eventually became part of Heritage’s response to the Clinton health plan of 1993-94.

But as McDonough notes, even in the 1990s, other conservative groups raised concerns about the constitutional implications of requiring all individuals to purchase a product (i.e., health insurance). Heritage retained its support for the mandate, but some members of Congress backed away in 1994, while other groups never endorsed the mandate to begin with.

The mandate returned again in 2006, when Republican Gov. Mitt Romney worked with the Democratic legislature in Massachusetts—and analysts at Heritage—to enact a health-care package with a state-level requirement to purchase coverage. The architecture of the Massachusetts package bore a more-than-incidental resemblance to the health-care law Congress ultimately passed, and Barack Obama signed, in 2010.

Some Republicans said nice things about

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