Gingrich on Ryan Plan: "Radical" and "Right-Wing Social Engineering"

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 16 2011 9:00 AM

Gingrich on Ryan Plan: "Radical" and "Right-Wing Social Engineering"

David Gregory asks Newt Gingrich about the Ryan plan and the wheels on the bus go clunk, crunch, splatter:

GREGORY: Do you think that Republicans ought to buck the public opposition and really move forward to completely change Medicare , turn it into a voucher program where you give seniors some premium support and -- so that they can go out and buy private insurance ?

GINGRICH: I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering . I don't think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate. I think we need a national conversation to get to a better Medicare system with more choices for seniors. But there are specific things you can do .

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This is genuinely surprising, for two reasons. One: As speaker, Gingrich tried to cut the rate of growth in Medicare spending, saying he was preserving the program but taking it back to its original model. He and the GOP were beaten up remorselessly. He said it was unfair. And given the chance to save a fellow Republican House leader from a similar buffeting, Gingrich doesn't do it.

Two: Gingrich supported the Ryan plan two weeks ago.

The former speaker sang Ryan’s praises for being a "brave" "man of ideas," like Gingrich himself.

"But would you have voted for Ryan’s plan?" I pressed.

"Sure," Gingrich replied.

"Do you think it would actually save the health care system?"

There is wiggle room here. John McCormack tracks what Gingrich has been saying and finds that, despite the statement to Newton-Small, he's been arguing for a middle rout between Ryan and nothing -- an optional private plan, similar to Rivlin-Domenici. But the Meet the Press interview gives air cover to Democrats and doubles back on his old, "brave" position. Being generous to Gingrich, the interview reads like he went for buzzier, more declarative language rather than finesse. The result of that: Air cover for Democrats attacking the plan.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.