LAWRENCEVILLE, N.J.—House Republican leaders made a big mistake by trying to rush through their plan to replace Obamacare, conservative star Newt Gingrich says.
And, Gingrich adds, President Donald Trump should have waited longer to step in.
Instead of setting unrealistic timelines that don’t account for the complexity of health care policy, the former House speaker said during a speaking engagement, Republican leaders should have allowed for a vigorous debate that could stretch out for months.
“I actually think the system, if you let it, works pretty well,” Gingrich told an audience of about 1,000 at Rider University’s Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics.
“But to work well takes time,” he said. “You have to have hearings, then you have to have markups, then you have to find out what is good, and the leadership has to realize it may not be perfect. Maybe it could be improved.”
The day after Gingrich spoke, one of his successors, House Speaker Paul Ryan, pulled Republican leadership’s Obamacare replacement bill—the American Health Care Act—for lack of enough votes as conservatives and some centrists refused to embrace it.
Trump got involved and put himself on the line too early in the Obamacare repeal debate, Gingrich argued.
“The time for President Trump to become involved in health care legislation is when a bill finally moves to [House-Senate] conference,” Gingrich said, because until then, “you are not shooting with real bullets.”
The House Freedom Caucus, made up of some of the most conservative members of the House, argued that the leadership bill supported by Trump did not completely repeal the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare.
Among other things, caucus members complained that Ryan did not hold hearings on the plan, nor allow major changes.
Gingrich, a former Republican congressman from Georgia and presidential candidate who is now a prolific author, initially gained national attention as the primary architect of the GOP’s “Contract with America.” The agenda proved to be instrumental in securing majorities for his party in both houses of Congress in 1994, for the first time in 40 years.
Gingrich spoke March 22 at Rider on “The Virtues of Capitalism and Free Markets” as part of a series of lectures bringing prominent public figures to campus.
During the question-and-answer session following his talk, Gingrich was asked to comment on how the House and Senate have handled health care after the election of Trump and the GOP’s promised repeal and replacement of Obamacare.
Before President Barack Obama’s health care bill became law, it took eight months for the legislation to work its way through both chambers of Congress, Gingrich reminded audience members.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who was House speaker when the Democrats were in the majority, introduced the Obamacare bill in July 2009; Obama signed the final version of the massive bill into law in March 2010.
In the end, not a single Republican voted for it in either the House or Senate.
“Why these guys would have set up a two- or three-week process is beyond me,” Gingrich said of Ryan and other House Republican leaders seeking to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Proponents of any legislation must navigate through both the House and Senate, two very different bodies, Gingrich noted.
“The House is a truck stop and the Senate is a country club,” he quipped. “I’m a creature of the House, so I have a very deep bias.”
Conservative Republicans in the Senate also had big concerns with the House GOP’s health care bill. And the Senate, Gingrich reminded the audience, typically rewrites and revises House bills before final details are worked out by conferees from both chambers.
Every morning, each U.S. senator looks in the mirror and says, “Yes, I would be a better president,” Gingrich said in jest. “So, what you have there [in the Senate] are 100 presidents negotiating.”
In his prepared remarks, Gingrich referenced an essay by Lebanese-American statistician and scholar Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Called “The Intellectual Yet Idiot,” it critiques governing elites, including tenured academics who are “really good at taking tests and writing essays” but can’t operate in the real world.
The elite figures described by Taleb “could write a brilliant essay on how to change a flat tire,” Gingrich said, “but if you walk into their office and say, ‘I have a flat tire,’ they wouldn’t know what to do because they’ve never seen a flat tire.”
Gingrich also took on academics who have been reticent to acknowledge the benefits of capitalism and free markets.
“To walk around and say capitalism doesn’t work and free markets don’t work is a denial of everything we know,” Gingrich said. “It would be like flying on a 747 from New York to Tokyo and debating whether or not the Wright Brothers succeeded.”
Tom Simonet, a journalism professor at Rider University, bristled at Gingrich’s description of tenured professors.
“The market does not magically regulate itself, and his anti-academic theme sounds like reverse elitism,” Simonet told The Daily Signal. “If he hears a critique of any one of his positions from a scholarly, well-researched point of view, he can just sit back and say it is fantasy.”
But Simonet said he enjoyed Gingrich’s discussion of the legislative process.
“He made the House and Senate sound almost like different planets in terms of culture,” Simonet said in an email, adding: “I was surprised that Gingrich voiced any criticism of the president. But the process of legislation is a subject Gingrich really knows.”
Ben Dworkin, a political science professor at Rider, is director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics.
“His descriptions of House-Senate relations were realistic and often [are] overlooked by outside observers watching the legislative process unfold,” Dworkin told The Daily Signal in an email. “Trump has moved very quickly in a number of different areas, and I think one big takeaway from the speaker’s remarks was his view that six weeks is not nearly enough time to build the coalition to replace the ACA.”
Gingrich’s robust defense of capitalism and his challenge to academic elites struck a chord with Rob Pluta, who owns and operates Leonardo’s II restaurant in Lawrenceville, a few miles from the Rider campus.
“Tenured professors who are protected by the bubble of academia never have to worry about meeting a payroll or having enough business to pay the mortgage,” Pluta said. “This is exactly what Newt meant when he talked about people who can test well and write well but have no idea of how the real world works.”