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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Newt vs. Newt

Newt Gingrich is engaging in some revisionist history by claiming he was not referring to Rep. Paul Ryan during his now infamous “Meet the Press” interview. That’s absurd. “Meet the Press” host David Gregory asked him point blank whether Republicans should go ahead with Ryan’s plan to revamp Medicare, and Gingrich responded by criticizing “right-wing social engineering” and calling for a “national conversation” on Medicare. He called Ryan’s plan “too big a jump.”

Here’s an excerpt of Gregory’s interview with the Republican presidential candidate:

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…

Gingrich: Right.

Gregory: …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. At the Center for Health Transformation, which I helped found, we published a book called ” Stop Paying the Crooks.” We thought that was a clear enough, simple enough idea, even for Washington. We — between Medicare and Medicaid, we pay between $70 billion and $120 billion a year to crooks. And IBM has agreed to help solve it, American Express has agreed to help solve it, Visa ‘s agreed to help solve it. You can’t get anybody in this town to look at it. That’s, that’s almost $1 trillion over a decade. So there are things you can do to improve Medicare.

Gregory: But not what Paul Ryan is suggesting, which is completely changing Medicare.

Gingrich: I, I think that, I think, I think that that is too big a jump. I think what you want to have is a system where people voluntarily migrate to better outcomes, better solutions, better options, not one where you suddenly impose upon the–I don’t want to–I’m against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change.

Implausibly, Gingrich told conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh in a May 19 interview that there was “no reference to Paul Ryan” in his answer and claimed his words were misinterpreted.

Limbaugh, May 19: Okay, now, I need to ask you because this is something you said on Sunday with Gregory that you didn’t believe in “left wing or right-wing social engineering.” What is that? Define social engineering for me.

Gingrich: It’s very straightforward. It’s when the government comes in and tells you how to live your life and what you’re gonna do, whether the values that lead it to do that are left-wing values or the values that lead it to do that are right-wing values. I believe in personal freedom. I believe in your right to lead your life. I believe that we are endowed by the Declaration of Independence, by Our Creator with the right to pursue happiness –and I want a government that is much more humble about its ability to tell you what to do, whether it’s people on either side of the ideological spectrum. By the way, it was not a reference to Paul Ryan. There was no reference to Paul Ryan in that answer.

Limbaugh: Well, then what did you apologize to him about?

Gingrich: Because it was interpreted in a way which was causing trouble, which he doesn’t need or deserve, and was causing the House Republicans trouble.

No reference? True, Gingrich didn’t use the words “Paul Ryan” in his answer. But Gregory referenced Ryan’s name. And there is only one Republican plan that would change Medicare and give seniors premium support payments to buy private insurance, as Gregory described it. And that plan is part of Ryan’s budget proposal, “Path to Prosperity.”

This is actually the second time in two days that Gingrich tried to spin his “Meet the Press” answer into something it isn’t. On his website, Limbaugh reported on May 18 that he got an e-mail from Gingrich trying to explain away his answer to Gregory. In that e-mail, Gingrich told Limbaugh his answer “had no reference to the Ryan budget.”

Limbaugh, May 18: I did get a note from Newt about a quarter of one. Forty-five minutes into the program. “Dear Rush: My sister was just listening to you and said that you were saying nice things about my past conservatism. Well, just for the record and for the present and the future, I oppose cap and trade. I testified against it. I helped defeat it. I oppose Obamacare. I’ve spent three years opposing it. This week’s stories are just wrong. I work with Paul Ryan. He and I are working together on his Medicare ideas. If you read what I actually said Sunday, it had no reference to the Ryan budget, which I would have voted for and have publicly praised.

Again, Gingrich may not have uttered the words “the Ryan budget” but the Medicare proposal is part of Ryan’s budget, and it was clear to everyone what he was talking about. It was certainly clear to Ryan, who accepted Gingrich’s apology.

Gingrich’s public praise for Ryan’s budget had its limits even before the “Meet the Press” interview — as the Wall Street Journal reported in an April 21 article headlined “Gingrich Steps Away from Ryan’s Budget.” The Journal said Gingrich wrote on his Facebook site that he would prefer giving seniors the option to use subsidies to buy private insurance rather than make it a requirement, as Ryan’s Medicare plan would do for future beneficiaries.

Wall Street Journal, April 21: “One option is for Congress to move towards a 21st Century personal Medicare system that would allow seniors to choose, on a voluntary basis, a more personal system with greater options for better care,” Mr. Gingrich wrote.

Like other presidential hopefuls, Mr. Gingrich is praising Mr. Ryan’s bravery without embracing his proposals.

— Eugene Kiely