While running for U.S. Senate in Utah last year, Tea Party favorite Mike Lee, who defeated incumbent Bob Bennett in the state’s GOP primary, campaigned on the promise that he would work to repeal the new health care law. “Every possible means must be applied within Congress as well as through the application of the Constitution and the law to stop full implementation of this legislation,” his campaign website said, adding, “Health care reform must never give government the authority to force Americans to buy health insurance.”
But last night on CNN, host Eliot Spitzer explained to Lee that those without insurance usually seek emergency care and that taxpayers end up footing the bill. Spitzer noted that in order to rein in those costs, in Massachusetts for example, conservative governor Mitt Romney initiated an mandate for individuals to purchase insurance. This forced the newly minted Utah GOP senator to admit that a government mandate isn’t such a bad idea. “The concept itself can be appealing,” he said, but this time qualifying that the state governments must decide. Spitzer then clarified Lee’s position:
SPITZER: I’m just trying to figure out as a matter of policy whether the individual mandate, which is the obligation that everybody buy into the system and pay something into it, since we all get health care, whether is a policy matter that makes sense to you. Because I think then the subsidiary question is whether the states do it or the federal government. But you seem almost to be saying, yes, you understand the logic for that.
LEE: Yes, I understand the logic of it and I understand why some states might want to do it. I’m saying, it needs to be decided on a state-by-state basis. As a federal legislator, I’m agnostic as to the underlying policy question of whether it’s a good idea because it’s a state question. Not a federal one.
So during his campaign for Senate, Lee said he was against any government mandating its citizens to buy health insurance. Now that he knows the “logic” behind the policy, Lee thinks it’s a good idea. But in order to get the politics right, Lee has to make it a state’s rights issue.