Silence on ObamaCare hurts Bush
For many conservatives, the fight against ObamaCare has been the defining battle of President Obama’s years in the White House. For them, and probably a majority of the Republican base, fighting first against the passage of the Affordable Care Act and later pressing to repeal it have been so important because: A) they strongly oppose the substance of the law, and B) they see opposition to ObamaCare as the best way to resist the president’s overall expansion of government.
That the struggle has so far been a losing one has not changed the fact that conservatives require their presidential candidates to have solid anti-ObamaCare bona fides.
Recently a well-known conservative activist, recalling the GOP effort to stop the Affordable Care Act in 2009 and 2010, asked: Where was Jeb Bush? I don’t remember him being there when we were doing everything we could to derail ObamaCare.
“A big vulnerability for the governor, when the debates start, is to remind us again, where were you during the battle over ObamaCare?” noted Gary Bauer of the conservative group American Values. “I don’t recall much (from him) during those years. I don’t think not being a veteran of those wars is a plus for Gov. Bush.”
Bauer is basically right. In 2009 and early 2010, as ObamaCare made its troubled way through Congress, Bush — two-term Republican governor of Florida with solid conservative credentials — remained mostly silent about the biggest public policy fight in a generation.
Bush statements that even tangentially touched on the Affordable Care Act were few and far between. In March 2009, for example, Bush penned an op-ed calling for conservatives to be the “loyal opposition” in the face of far-reaching Democrat initiatives. He added: “Simply opposing the massive encroachment of government into health care won’t solve the problem of affordability of health insurance for many Americans.”
A couple of months later, in May 2009, Bush said: “It’s time for us to listen first, to learn a little bit, to upgrade our message a little bit and to not be nostalgic about the past. You can’t beat something with nothing, and the other side has something. I don’t like it, but they have it and we have to be respectful and mindful of that.”
Bush did not remain silent forever. The day after ObamaCare finally, officially passed the House and Senate and headed to the president’s desk for signature, Bush spoke out forcefully against the new law. Appearing on Fox News, he called ObamaCare a “major overreach” and a “huge new entitlement” and a “massive tax increase” that would “play out in the future by giving up our own freedom and put it in the hands of government.”
With the 2010 elections approaching, Bush predicted “a massive uprising against this government takeover of our lives.”
It was a tough, far-ranging indictment — delivered the day after the bill had been safely passed into law.
More recently, as a presidential run has neared, Bush has sharpened his critique of ObamaCare. In a late 2013 appearance on ABC, he called the health law “flawed to its core.” This month, in Iowa, he called it a “monstrosity.”
But that is now. Back when it was all on the line, and Republicans were gathering their forces in a desperate attempt to stop ObamaCare, Jeb Bush mostly held his tongue.
Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.