When Rick Perry Praised HillaryCare

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The Texas governor hasn't always regarded federalized health care as unconstitutional and noxious to liberty

Rick Perry talking to activist - Brian Snyder : Reuters - banner.jpg

In Rick Perry's 2010 book Fed Up, he declares that federalized health care is unconstitutional, insists that handling the issue at the state or local level is essential to liberty, and argues that introducing government run health care foolishly risks destroying the best system in the world. "It's not hard to see who believes in the Constitution and who doesn't if we look closely. For now, if you are an establishment politician in Washington, you'd better be prepared for a complete review of your record," he concludes. "As I mentioned before, long-standing Utah senator Bob Bennett didn't even get renominated by Utah Republicans this year, in major part because he cosponsored a version of health care reform only slightly distinguishable from Obamacare."

So what does a complete review of Perry's record reveal? As it turns out, he sent a letter during his tenure as Texas Agricultural Commissioner that praised Hillary Clinton's 1993 health care reform efforts. "I think your efforts in trying to reform the nation's health care system are most commendable," he wrote. "I would like to request that the task force give particular consideration to the needs of the nation's farmers... Rural populations have a high proportion of uninsured people, rising health care costs, and often experience lack of services." He concluded by noting, "your efforts are worthy, and I hope you will remember this constituency as the task force progresses. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any assistance."

Dan Amira at New York magazine dismisses the story and mocks the Daily Caller for publishing it. "He didn't even say anything about the substance of Clinton's health-care reform plan," Amira writes, "just that it was 'commendable' to try to reform the system in some way, which is hardly controversial."

I disagree.

Clinton's efforts were widely criticized by Republicans at the time, and the substance of her reforms obviously constituted a substantial federal intervention into health care, the very thing Perry now claims is obviously unconstitutional and ruinous to liberty. (And yes, Clinton's plan did call for both an employer mandate to provide health care and an individual mandate to be covered.)

Yes, this was almost two decades ago, and I don't think it reveals much, if anything, about the way Perry would behave on health care if elected now. But it is another demonstration that he's a phony -- that is to say, his rhetoric on federalism and narrow view of what the Constitution permits are exactly what the tea party wants to hear, but his record and penchant for contradicting himself when doing so is politically convenient cast doubt on the depth of his conviction.

If he is elected in 2012 and the GOP suffers heavy losses in the 2014 midterms, will Perry accommodate himself to the new political reality and compromise with Democrats to get things done?

Of course.

What Perry is best at is figuring out what a winning majority of the polity wants to hear and telling them that. His charisma and effortless ability to tweak liberals is presently winning him accolades among tea partiers who are blinding themselves to the fact that he panders no less often than Romney.

He's just better at it.

Liberals are misjudging him too, reacting as if his red meat rhetoric proves that he is out of the mainstream.

But Doug Mataconis is right: he'd likely end up governing as a conventional big government conservative:

Evidence for this can be seen in his record as Texas Governor, which includes a history of crony capitalism disguised as economic development and, of course, the Gardisil decision. He isn't necessarily another George W. Bush, at least not domestically, but anyone in the Tea Party who thinks he's going to lead a revolution to cut the size and scope of the Federal Government is, most likely, kidding themselves.
For more evidence, see another health-care related stance he took as governor:

In Texas, we recently placed a strong emphasis on preventative care when we expanded access to Medicaid for more low-income children by making the Medicaid enrollment process simpler. We allocated an additional $4 billion to the Medicaid program, and more than $900 million to the Children's Health Insurance Program. I urged legislators to pass a telemedicine pilot program that will enable, through technology, a sick border resident of limited financial means to receive care from a specialist hundreds of miles away. But the effort to combat disease and illness requires greater cooperative efforts between our two nations. It is a simple truth that disease knows no boundaries. An outbreak of drug-resistant tuberculosis, for example, endangers citizens of both our nations. We have much to gain if we work together to expand preventative care, and treat maladies unique to this region.

Legislation authored by border legislators Pat Haggerty and Eddie Lucio establishes an important study that will look at the feasibility of bi-national health insurance. This study recognizes that the Mexican and U.S. sides of the border compose one region, and we must address health care problems throughout that region. That's why I am also excited that Texas Secretary of State Henry Cuellar is working on an initiative that could extend the benefits of telemedicine to individuals living on the Mexican side of the border.
This strikes me as a perfectly defensible policy initiative. But is the average tea partier okay with a governor who poured a lot more money into Medicaid -- a program he has called unconstitutional -- and proposed to use Texas resources to expand healthcare for Mexican nationals? 

If so, they sure are suckers for a cowboy hat.

Image credit: Reuters
     
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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