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A Case for the Individual Mandate, From Mitt Romney

David Callahan

In recent months, I've been scratching my head about how conservatives could turn so vehemently against the individual mandate when it tracks with one of their most sacred philosophical principles -- namely, that there should be no free lunch and people should take care of themselves. 

The personal responsibility argument was made by the Heritage Foundation in initially advancing the individual mandate -- and it was the argument that Mitt Romney has used in the past, too. As Romney wrote in a 2009 USA Today op-ed:

Our experience also demonstrates that getting every citizen insured doesn't have to break the bank. First, we established incentives for those who were uninsured to buy insurance. Using tax penalties, as we did, or tax credits, as others have proposed, encourages "free riders" to take responsibility for themselves rather than pass their medical costs on to others. This doesn't cost the government a single dollar.

What conservative could argue with that?

Of course, one reason that the mandate has become so controversial is that traditional conservatives have become less influential on the right and libertarians -- who care far more about rights than responsibilities -- have become more influential. Back in 2006, though, Romney had a message for that crowd, writing in a Wall Street Journal op-ed:

Some of my libertarian friends balk at what looks like an individual mandate. But remember, someone has to pay for the health care that must, by law, be provided: Either the individual pays or the taxpayers pay. A free ride on government is not libertarian.

The Wall Street Journal reports that in an earlier draft of the article, Romney had added: "An uninsured libertarian might counter that he could refuse the free care, but under law, that is impossible—and inhumane."

So much has been written about Romney's Etch-A-Sketch qualities, that piling on seems pointless. Suffice it to say that you don't need to look through the Heritage Foundation's archives to find the obvious conservative arguments in favor of the individual mandate. Just listen to what Mitt Romney had to say -- before the rise of the Tea Party.