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Opinion: Columnists

Obama's own flip-flop past

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Photo - President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign rally at City Park on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign rally at City Park on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
Opinion,Philip Klein,Columnists,Campaign 2012,Politics Digest

In recent days, President Obama has hammered Mitt Romney on the campaign trail for being a flip-flopper. There's plenty of material there, and it's a wonder that Obama didn't exploit it earlier.

But Obama overreached on Wednesday. "You could take a videotape of things I said 10 years ago, 12 years ago ... and you'd say, 'Man, this is the same guy,' " Obama boasted at a campaign stop in Iowa.

Oh really? In the immortal words of Warner Wolf, let's go to the videotape.

"I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer universal health care plan," Obama declared at an AFL-CIO event in 2003. "A single-payer health care plan, universal health care plan. That's what I'd like to see."

A single-payer health care system is a socialized program in which government is the sole purchaser of health care, akin to what exists in Canada. But as president, Obama has repeatedly attacked critics for suggesting he wants to orchestrate a government takeover of the health care system. Either he owes his critics an apology, or he has flip-flopped on his previous support for single-payer health care.

During his protracted 2008 primary fight with Hillary Clinton, one of the few areas of domestic policy disagreement centered around the individual mandate. Clinton was a strong supporter of the idea, but Obama was emphatically opposed. He described how "you can have a situation which we're seeing right now in the state of Massachusetts, where people are being fined for not having purchased health care but choose to accept the fine because they still can't afford it even with the subsidies. And they are then worse off. They then have no health care and are paying a fine above and beyond that."

But Obama signed an individual mandate into law as president. According to the Congressional Budget Office, once it's in effect, 6 million Americans will still lack insurance but will be forced to pay penalties totaling $7 billion -- precisely the situation Obama warned about. Most of those penalties will be borne by the middle class.

While we're on the subject of the mandate, it's worth remembering what Obama told ABC's George Stephanopoulos in Sept. 2009: "[F]or us to say that you've got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase." Yet his lawyer argued successfully before the Supreme Court that the mandate was, in fact, a tax, and therefore constitutional.

And in 2008, Obama ran an ad titled "Billy," blasting then-PhRMA President Billy Tauzin and the art of deal-making in Washington. "I don't want to learn how to play the game better, I want to put an end to the game playing," Obama vowed.

Yet as president, despite pledges to conduct all health care negotiations on C-SPAN, Obama cut a secret deal with Tauzin's PhRMA behind closed doors. Under the terms of the deal, drug companies would support Obama's health care legislation in exchange for special favors, such as Obama's opposition to the reimportation of drugs from Canada. Incidentally, that represented another flip-flop, as candidate Obama supported reimportation.

All of the prior examples of Obama's policy reversals pertain to the issue of health care. But we could have just as easily looked at gay marriage, gun control, marijuana decriminalization or a whole host of other issues on which Obama has dramatically shifted his positions.

It's fully accurate to describe Romney as a flip-flopper. But Obama is no paragon of consistency.

Philip Klein (pklein@washingtonexaminer.com) is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Examiner. Follow him on Twitter at @philipaklein.

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