Bobby Jindal lost me on Obamacare. If the Supreme Court rules against the Affordable Care Act, the Louisiana governor says the GOP should dump the law and start over. “Republicans were elected to repeal Obamacare; that’s what they should do.” He does not endorse the proposal from Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, which would keep subsidies in place through 2017 for the 6.4 million who are in danger of losing their insurance, giving Congress time to rewrite the healthcare law.
The problem with Jindal’s approach is that while Americans still view Obamacare unfavorably, they want it overhauled, not obliterated. Certain components of the law are popular, and while they want the individual mandate eliminated, voters want to see insurance protected for those with pre-existing conditions, for those children up to age 26 who can be covered on their parents’ insurance, and for others who couldn’t afford insurance without government subsidies.
It would not behoove Republicans to orchestrate the loss of insurance for millions of Americans. It could cause needless hardship for many; it would also be wrong. The country gives the GOP high marks on the economy, but trusts Democrats more on healthcare, which consistently ranks as a top concern. Republicans need to win the country’s trust with a plan that gets rid of the individual mandate and other onerous aspects of the bill, and puts in place a better alternative, with the least disruption.
Opposing Johnson’s temporary fix, Jindal sounds a lot like Rand Paul, who has warned his fellow Republicans in the Senate against adopting “Obamacare light.” That’s Bobby Jindal’s challenge as he readies to announce his campaign on June 24 – making him the 13th in the GOP field. How to stand out from the pack? Here’s a preview of his approach.
“We have detailed plans,” replied Mr. Jindal, and over a dinner organized by the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, he shared some of those plans. The Committee, founded by Art Laffer, Steve Moore, Larry Kudlow and Steve Forbes, aims to (in the words of Mr. Kudlow) “maximize growth, jobs, opportunity, and upward mobility” through “a low-rate, broad-based flat tax, limited government spending, the lightest possible economic regulations, sound money, and free trade.” For the most part, Jindal carried that banner, while navigating nimbly some troublesome issues like the Trans Pacific Partnership, which GOP primary voters for the most part oppose.
On healthcare, Jindal proposes a number of ideas popular with conservatives, including tort reform, small group plans, allowing insurers to compete across state lines, health savings accounts and block grants to the states to cover pre-existing conditions. On this front, he has done his homework.
On other issues, the governor of Louisiana sometimes sounded like he was ticking off right-wing boxes –more platitudes than profundities--oppose Common Core, rebuild defense, strengthen our border, and so on. Disappointingly, in proposing solutions to our healthcare needs or education, for instance, he failed to highlight private sector solutions. After seven years of costly federal government aggrandizement, that’s a miss.
On the need to elect a Republican in 2016, however, Jindal was on the mark. “The American dream is becoming the European nightmare,” he said. “This election truly is the most important of our lifetime.”
Jindal is campaigning with the perspective of both a Washington insider (having served in Congress) and outsider. He chastises Congress for becoming a “permanent governing class,” and advocates term limits – dare to dream – as well as strict rules governing relations between legislators and lobbyists. He jokes that Congress should be paid on a per diem basis – paid for days they don’t work. That might hit a chord with primary voters.
On one of today’s hot-button issues, Jindal hit a home run. He described himself as positive on trade, but not in favor of granting President Obama fast-track authority. He is not opposed as a matter of principle, but rather because he does not trust Obama to negotiate a good deal – on trade or on Iran or on other matters of importance to the U.S. Reasonably so.
Governor Jindal was not so long ago a rising GOP star. More recently, he has receded into the background, overshadowed by other luminaries like Scott Walker and Marco Rubio. A new Wall Street Journal poll out showed only 36 percent of Republican primary voters saying they could support Jindal, compared to 75 percent who see themselves possibly lining up behind Jeb Bush or 74 percent behind Marco Rubio. Jindal, to be sure, has yet to enter the race, and his current 11th-place ranking could get a boost from his announcement. But, he is also handicapped by drooping popularity in his home state.
Jindal has run into opposition over his plan to eliminate income taxes while boosting sales taxes in Louisiana, and has been dinged by voters for poor healthcare services. Also, he has flip-flopped on Common Core, seizing on an issue that resonates among conservatives. While formerly a backer of the national standards, Jindal now advocates for local control, putting him at odds with his Education Superintendent.
Like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Jindal has faced budget challenges in his own state. Lower oil prices have walloped revenues, while Jindal has opposed those on both the left and the right calling for higher taxes. (Some decry his obeisance to Grover Norquist’s anti-tax platform and the budget gimmicks used to comply.) Voters are also miffed that Jindal has spent so much time out of state (165 days last year according to a local newspaper) pursuing his quest to run for president.
Importantly, the governor recently signed a budget that avoided the most draconian cuts to education and healthcare, and that included his veto of various tax measures. At the same time, he can tout continued increases in private sector employment in his state, in spite of softer oilfield activity -- something other governors might envy. On balance, Jindal remains a credible candidate, with executive experience, a good grasp of most domestic issues and a healthy skepticism of the way Washington operates.
Now, if the other twelve candidates already in the race would just step aside…