Gingrich Evolves on Federal Role
By LOUISE RADNOFSKY
Newt Gingrich’s rise in Republican presidential polls has come as he positioned himself as the true conservative who could capture the small-government fervor of primary voters. But his long history of policy pronouncements suggests the former House Speaker also believes in the power of government to do big things.
At various times in his career, Mr. Gingrich has come out in favor of requiring that individuals carry health insurance and increasing federal spending for scientific research. He has backed programs run by the Education Department, which many of his peers would like to abolish, as well as national curriculum standards and a government response to climate change.
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Mr. Gingrich has said he favors government solutions when they are smart. On the campaign trail, he has denied some of his positions and toned down others. And he has won the loyalty, for now, of many Republican primary voters, despite holding views that might appear anathema to them.
“When Gingrich is good, he’s better than anybody. And when he’s bad, he’s just awful,” said Ken Emanuelson, a lawyer and Dallas Tea Party steering-committee member. “But you have to take the overall pluses and minuses, and think, ‘Is this guy going to be the best from what we have to choose from?’ and I think a lot of conservatives are making that calculation.”
One primary rival, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, released an online ad Wednesday attacking a range of Gingrich policies. Another, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, called him the “most liberal” of the candidates on immigration for a debate answer last week in which he backed a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants.
Mr. Gingrich’s campaign website details his conservative stances on a range of issues, as well as noting he has “over 7,000 votes, over 1,500 speeches, thousands of television and radio appearances…articles and op-eds and 24 books to scrutinize.”
Vince Haley, his policy director, said “there is no one alive today who has achieved more conservative reform in the federal government than Newt Gingrich.” He cites Mr. Gingrich’s record of balancing the federal budget and securing an overhaul of the welfare system while he was Speaker, and decades of work with conservative activists.
To date, it has been Mr. Gingrich’s biggest rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has been accused of “flip-flopping” on his views. The New Hampshire Union Leader endorsed Mr. Gingrich and said it preferred to back a candidate “with whom we may sometimes disagree than one who tells us what he thinks we want to hear.”
Top of the list: requiring individuals to carry health insurance, a policy Mr. Gingrich has repeatedly favored and many Republicans now oppose.
Mr. Gingrich co-sponsored legislation with this provision in 1993, when it was still in vogue with conservative think tanks; they have since renounced it. He continued to support a mandate in books published in 2005, 2009 and 2010, and in a May 2011 television appearance in which he said he supported “some requirement that you either have health insurance or you post a bond.”
His campaign posted a video after that appearance in which Mr. Gingrich stated opposition to “any effort to impose a federal mandate on anyone because it is fundamentally wrong and, I believe, unconstitutional.”
He has maintained support for increases in federal spending on scientific research, overseen by federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation, and pushed for greater use of electronic medical records, aided by the federal government. Mr. Gingrich has said $20 billion of grants for health-care providers was a good element of the Obama administration’s stimulus package, though he later reversed this position.
Several GOP candidates have proposed eliminating the Education Department. Mr. Gingrich has appeared alongside Education Secretary Arne Duncan and has proposed programs to improve “patriotic education.” His website now says he would “dramatically shrink the Department of Education to a research and reporting overview agency.”
On energy, Mr. Gingrich has often said it is “possible” that climate change is occurring. He has called for more federally funded climate research and a range of tax credits for renewable-energy investments. In 2008, he filmed a TV ad with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) in which he said “our country must take action to address climate change.”
He now calls the ad “probably the dumbest single thing I’ve done in recent years” and calls climate change an “unsettled scientific question.” He continues to argue for the tax incentives.
Write to Louise Radnofsky at email@example.com
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