Can Bobby Jindal's Health Plan Get the Republican Party on Track?

The Louisiana governor's proposal could be a turning point for the party.
By Peter Suderman

Before conservative policy wonks can win any policy victories, they’ll need to overhaul the Republican Party. For an idea of what that might look like and the challenges any transformation will entail, they should look to one of the party’s wonkiest politicians, Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Last week, as President Obama touted the 7.1 million private plan sign-ups in Obamacare’s first open enrollment period, Jindal gave the world a glimpse at what the outlines of a Republican alternative might look like. Not only would the plan repeal Obamacare, it would, among other things, overhaul the tax code to remove the tax advantage for employer-sponsored health plans, offer incentives to states to protect access for individuals with preexisting health conditions, block grant Medicaid, expand health savings accounts, and create a $100 billion innovation fund for states experimenting with policies to bring down the cost of health care.

But just as important as the particulars was the simple fact that Jindal was offering something that many Obamacare proponents, including the president, had said did not exist: a conservative health care policy. At the same time, Jindal’s plan was a challenge to his fellow Republicans to take health policy more seriously, to reckon with the tradeoffs it requires, and to begin the process of unifying around an alternative. It was a declaration, of sorts, that Republicans and the right could—and should—be wonky and policy focused too.

Jindal’s proposal, released by his policy group, America Next, was not the first health policy plan to come from the right. In recent months, Rep Tom Price (R-Ga.), as well as GOP Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.), Richard Burr (N.C.), and Orrin Hatch (Utah), have put forth ideas for overhauling the health system as well. But Jindal’s proposal is a sign that the party is shifting its focus—not by giving up on repeal of Obamacare, but by thinking about what might come next. And because Jindal is a potential candidate for the party’s 2016 presidential nomination, it is also a signal that that health care reforms will be a major issue in elections to come.

Republicans have often struggled with how to talk about health care, especially when their opponents promise expansive subsidized coverage benefits. Jindal’s plan offers a hint as to how Republican candidates might sell their approach: Instead of emphasizing coverage, Jindal’s plan prioritizes reducing the cost of health care. That’s a potential weak point in Obamacare, which was sold as a way to reduce health insurance premiums for families, but will, as President Obama admitted last week, still result in premiums continuing to rise. (Obama’s promise is now that premiums will rise slower than they would have in the absence of Obamacare.)


Jindal clearly wants to shift gears by pushing the party in a more solution-oriented direction. His health care plan is intended as the first in a salvo of big-picture policy proposals set for release. Those plans are meant both to prod the party in a new direction and to establish Jindal as the leader of its brain trust.

His challenge will be to convert his policy chops into political success. Jindal has plenty of wonky cred, but his role in the party sometimes feels more like that of a particularly prominent think tank scholar than a national political leader. He’s a Rhodes Scholar with an Ivy League pedigree, holding degrees in both biology and public policy from Brown, as well as a political science degree from Oxford.

Yet Jindal’s record as governor makes it clear that he is more than an Ivory Tower geek. He has a real record of accomplishments as governor—cutting Louisiana’s income tax, expanding access to charter schools, pushing budget reform, and growing the state’s economy at a faster rate than the nation as a whole in the years since before the recession. His larger vision, meanwhile, goes well beyond small-scale policy tweaks.

Conservative wonks hoping to overhaul the GOP, or Washington, will have a significantly tougher time than any governor. The existing policy barriers—the mass of federal programs and bureaucracies, all with constituencies in tow—are larger, and the political incentives for even sympathetic politicians to avoid difficult reforms are bigger still. Jindal’s health plan is a strong nudge to a party that has long lacked policy direction, and a reminder that there’s no better time to start the process of change than right now.

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A Taxing Insurance System

By Bobby Jindal

If President Obama is interested in lowering inequality, he has a funny way of showing it. In a speech last December, the President claimed that income inequality is “the defining challenge of our time,” and pledged new government action to reduce the gap between rich and poor.

Ironically enough, one of the policies the President claimed will “solve” inequality—the massive health care legislation he signed into law—will result in the health insurers who provide care to the lowest-income Americans getting taxed.

You read that right: Obamacare taxes health insurers who provide care through Medicaid, the state-federal partnership providing care to low-income families and individuals with disabilities. The law raises $8 billion in taxes on insurers this year, rising to over $14 billion annually by 2018.

Under the law, most managed care plans that provide treatment to vulnerable populations in Medicaid will be subject to the tax. Likewise, most Medicare Advantage plans chosen by seniors will be forced to pay this new Obamacare surcharge.

Because of the way the law was written and applied, the health insurer tax will have some truly perverse effects. In Louisiana, we will have to pay our Medicaid plans more to offset the cost of the health insurer tax. But in doing so, we will claim federal matching funds on those higher Medicaid payments. Imagine that: The federal government is paying states to fund the taxes Washington itself imposed!

Democrats like to claim that these taxes will be borne by “greedy” insurance companies, and that ordinary Americans won’t suffer. But non-partisan experts have said insurers’ cost of the tax will be passed on to insurers’ customers, which is consistent with economic theory—and basic common sense.

Both the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation agree that these taxes will ultimately be paid by consumers, in the form of higher premiums. The Joint Committee on Taxation said that repealing the insurer tax would reduce premiums by 2-2.5 percent. That means the insurer tax raises premiums by $350-400 per year for the average family health insurance plan.

Remember that Obamacare’s individual mandate was ruled a tax by the Supreme Court two years ago. So Obamacare taxes you if you don’t buy health insurance, and taxes most people who do buy insurance. Businesses face the same dilemma: Large firms are taxed if they don’t provide their workers with insurance, but if they offer their employees coverage, the law’s health insurance tax could raise their premiums even higher.

And all these taxes—enforced by your helpful friends at the IRS—are harming American families, and our economy. The Congressional Budget Office recently concluded that Obamacare raises effective marginal tax rates, discouraging millions of Americans from working. CBO also concluded that the law will reduce aggregate labor compensation, and result in lower demand for lower-wage workers.

To end where we began: A law that taxes those providing care to the most vulnerable, raises insurance premiums on struggling families, and reduces the American workforce and compensation is exactly the wrong way to address income inequality. In fact, it epitomizes Ronald Reagan’s famous quip that the nine most terrifying words are “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” President Obama should go back to the drawing board on his agenda, and Congress should repeal Obamacare and focus on enacting true health reform—changes that will lower costs, not raise them.

Published by Townhall.

Jindal says GOP has to 'be a party that's for something'

New Hampshire Union Leader
By Michael Cousinaue

MANCHESTER - Republicans running for Congress this year need to stand "for something" and not just bank on opposition to Obamacare to carry them to victory in the November midterm elections, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said.

"I think there's a bunch of smart guys in D.C. who are trying to tell Republicans, 'Just run against Obamacare. Don't offer any ideas,'" Jindal said in an interview at the New Hampshire Union Leader on Friday. "I think that's a mistake. I think we've got to be a party that's for something, not against something."

Jindal, who said a 2016 White House run is "certainly something I'm thinking about," blamed President Barack Obama for Russia's aggressive actions against the Ukraine because Obama didn't follow through on his earlier threats against the Syrian government in its civil war.

"People say and they're right that this President helped to precipitate this crisis when he drew the red line in Syria and didn't act," Jindal said.

Jindal said Obama, in an effort to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin to reverse course, should reverse his 2009 decision to scrap a plan to put an anti-ballistic missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

"The only way to dissuade Putin from this and other provocative actions is to show them there'd be a real consequence," he said.

Regarding former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown announcing Friday he was forming an exploratory committee for a possible Senate run here in New Hampshire, Jindal said Brown's move brings energy and enthusiasm to Republicans.

"I think it also, whether folks are supporting him or not, it focuses, I think, folks' attention on there's an election that we can win," Jindal said.

On health care, Jindal said Obama diagnosed some of the nation's health care problems correctly but offered the wrong cure in the Affordable Care Act.

Jindal, who served as secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and also was executive director on the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, said he would push for more tax deductions for individuals to pay for health care, an ability for people to buy insurance across state lines, elimination of frivolous lawsuits and more flexibility for states to spend federal health care funds.

Even if Republicans make political gains in Washington, it won't mean leaders will fix the nation's major problems, he said.

"There's a naive belief that if just our party would win the next election, if just our guy were President, if our guys controlled Congress, all would be right with the world," Jindal said. "Everybody would have unicorns in their back yards, they'd be riding those every day, a chicken in every pot - and look, I'm certainly going to fight for my ideas and my party and my guys and advance our policies - but I think that's a little simplistic."

Jindal, who served three years in Congress before he was elected governor in 2007, suggested Congress should be part time with term limits because Congress is now "a permanent ruling class."

Congress also won't make difficult decisions until its members absolutely have to, Jindal said.

"It's like your kids with their homework," he said. "They can have a week do to the book report, they're not going to do it until the last day. Congress is not going to balance the budget. They're not going to reform the entitlement programs.

"They're not going to cut spending until they absolutely have to, and I'd love to tell you it'll be different once we have a bunch of Republicans in there. I think it will be better when we have a bunch of Republicans there, but it's not going to be different until we make structural changes, until there's no choice."

Jindal also said Louisiana has no statewide education curriculum, leaving that decision and textbook choices to local districts.

"I strongly oppose any effort for there to be a federal curriculum or a federal involvement in our educational system," Jindal said. "I'm one of those believers that these decisions are best made at the local level."

Published by the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Provocative Weakness

National Review
By Bobby Jindal

Sixty-nine years after the American president traveled to the Crimean peninsula to capitulate to a Russian strongman, Barack Obama’s weakness is pushing the United States to another generational conflict with Moscow.

In exchange for some phony promises of future, multilateral cooperation, Franklin Roosevelt in 1945 sated Joseph Stalin’s appetite to expand the population of subjugates under Moscow’s thumb. Eastern European innocents would pay for that mistake in the cold, dark shadow of totalitarianism for nearly half a century. And Americans paid for it with a multibillion-dollar cold war that strained our budgets, dragged our economy, and posed an ever-present threat to the national psyche.
Roosevelt’s failure was to believe a land-grabber could be coaxed, instead of confronted, into submission. Of Stalin, he said, “I think that if I give him everything that I possibly can and ask nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige, he won’t try to annex anything and will work for a world of democracy and peace.” Sound familiar? President Obama’s performance in the current Crimean crisis bears all the marks of that same naïveté.
Obama seems to believe or, at a minimum, to hold out hope that multilateral shame can make a tyrant blush. Roosevelt, similarly, conceded Russian domination of Eastern Europe in exchange for Stalin’s agreement to become a member of the United Nations, where, Roosevelt presumably thought, Stalin would sit around the international family table and play nice.

Since Russian troops began massing on the border of Crimea, and then surrounding Ukrainian military assets, President Obama has couched his response only in terms of what the United States is doing to consult its allies. This leader of the free world, when put under pressure that only his office can address, resorts to speaking about process instead of principle. And as is ever the case, this president confuses talking with doing, and consultation with commitment.

The president speaks of a “cost” that Putin will pay for misbehavior in Ukraine, but no doubt the Russian president hears only echoes of the “red line” that Obama failed to enforce in Syria when Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against his own people.

In Roosevelt’s case, Crimea was but the scene of the mistake. For Obama, it’s more than a venue. The sovereign state of Ukraine has been called the “crown jewel” of the now-independent former Soviet Republics. It was home to a large share of the USSR’s nuclear weaponry, missiles the Ukrainians freely relinquished in exchange for promises — from Russia, promises of peace, and from the U.S. and United Kingdom, promises of protection. These accords, the Budapest Memorandum, weren’t a formal treaty, but for a president who uses scarcely any tool but rhetoric, that distinction should matter little.

The nuclear club is constantly in a state of flux. Ostensibly, most aspirants to it seek nuclear weapons to check a rival. The Ukrainians gave up their arsenal despite Russia’s aggressive past, trusting the Western sheriffs’ assurances of protection. If we make that Ukrainian decision a mistake by reneging now, it’s difficult to see how we will talk any other nation out of its nukes in the future.

Putin barely disguises his ambition to reestablish a larger and ever-growing sphere of influence for Moscow — and he doesn’t disguise at all his disdain for the democratic governance and liberty that the people of Eastern Europe deserve. President Obama knows both of these things about his counterpart but is loath to act with certainty to check either.

For this American president, multilateralism is not a process but an end. Cooperation and consensus are his principles, not his tools. While President Reagan and both Presidents Bush accepted the American mission to be effective even at the expense of being liked, this president wants to be seen as cooperative even at the expense of being just.

That, more than his inexperience, is the heart of Obama’s repeated failure abroad. Some have suggested that Obama’s timidity is rooted in a bohemian worldview that abhors conflict. Others peg it, more charitably, to a mushy optimism about a new world order ushered in by technology that adds a measure of leveling to the international playing field. Whatever the motivation, his weakness will prove expensive for America; it always does.

This president is often praised for his intelligence. The events in Crimea should spur us to revisit that notion, or at least to mark the difference between wisdom and intelligence. While the president of Russia is using military force to invade neighboring countries, our president is reducing the size of our military and boasting about the record number of Americans on food stamps. Obama conveys weakness to our allies and our enemies, but wise presidents have always understood that American weakness leads to violence, American strength to stability.

We spent two generations overcoming the failure to contain Russian ambition at Yalta. Here’s hoping President Obama takes a longer look at that history before he repeats it.

Published by the National Review.

America needs an 'all of the above' strategy to expand educational opportunity

Washington Examiner
By Bobby Jindal

Unfortunately, the actions his administration is taking are moving our country in exactly the wrong direction, and will deny educational opportunities to families most in need of them.

Last week, the Education Department proposed new rules that would effectively reduce access to higher education, particularly for low-income and minority Americans. The proposed “gainful employment” regulation -- which imposes performance metrics on colleges when it comes to their students' post-graduation employment and earnings -- sounds good in theory. After all, who doesn't want to ensure students receive quality jobs, and can afford to pay back their student loans?

But as with most plans developed by federal bureaucrats, the devil is in the details. First, the “gainful employment” regulation discriminates in the programs it targets. The new guidelines don’t apply to traditional four-year degree programs. Instead, community colleges and for-profit institutions that serve non-traditional students — the working mother trying to put herself through school, or the mid-career professional studying part-time to climb the career ladder — will feel the brunt of the new rules.

Targeting only institutions that serve non-traditional students means these students, who come from disproportionately low-income, African-American, and Hispanic communities, will be harmed. Facing new federal mandates that could put them out of business, some institutions may respond by avoiding non-traditional students less likely to graduate -- thus reducing education access to those who need quality training most. That's why the National Black Chamber of Commerce opposed an earlier version of the proposed rules, saying the “harsh regulations” will “hurt black and minority students.”

Sadly, the “gainful employment” mess mirrors the Obama administration's actions in Louisiana. Last year, Attorney General Eric Holder filed a federal lawsuit seeking to impede our state's innovative school choice program. Despite the fact that minority students comprise the overwhelming majority of school choice voucher recipients, Holder and the Justice Department cited federal civil rights laws and cases in seeking to block the voucher program. My administration has fought those efforts because we don't believe Washington regulations should deny low-income and African-American students the quality education they will need to succeed in life.

It’s easy to talk about educational opportunities if you attended an Ivy League university, or if you have the financial resources to send your children to pricey private schools, as Obama has done. But it’s not so easy to get ahead if you’re a single parent desperately trying to find a better school for your children, or if you’re a good student from a low-income household seeking to become the first in your family to attend college. That’s why we need to empower parents and students with quality, customized educational choices that work to meet their needs.

Just as our country needs an “all of the above” energy strategy, so too does America need an “all of the above” strategy when it comes to educational opportunities. We should work tirelessly to improve public schools, provide new charter school options, and more parent choice, so no child remains stuck in a failing school. And when it comes to higher education, we need to provide our next generation a wide variety of choices — from four-year degrees offered by traditional not-for-profit universities, to certificate programs offered by for-profit colleges, to specialized training programs offered by businesses looking to enhance their workers’ skills.

In Louisiana, we’re working to build an “all of the above” education strategy. We’ve reformed our teacher training and tenure laws, and encouraged the development of charter schools. Our school choice program has given thousands of low-income students a fresh start by giving them the opportunity to select better schools. And this year, we’ve proposed a new $40 million grant program for higher education, focused on training programs that will give Louisianians the practical skills they need to compete in the global economy.

Earlier this year, the president famously said he had a “pen and a phone” through which he would embark on his “year of action” to give Americans more opportunity. But we should be taking actions that give low-income and African-American students more educational opportunities, not using federal mandates to take them away.

My advice to the president is simple: Put down the regulatory pen, scrap the “gainful employment” rules, and use the phone to give me a call. I’d love to work with you on ways we can expand educational opportunities for all Americans.

Published by the Washington Examiner.