Buh-bye.

WASHINGTON — Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) is set to defend his state’s health care law from conservative critics in a high-profile speech on Thursday. But Romney is far from being the potential 2012 Republican presidential contender with the most politically problematic record on health care.

That title likely belongs to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who announced his White House aspirations a day prior to Romney’s address.

In his post-congressional life, Gingrich has been a vocal champion for mandated insurance coverage — the very provision of President Obama’s health care legislation that the Republican Party now decries as fundamentally unconstitutional.

This mandate was hardly some little-discussed aspect of Gingrich’s plan for health care reform. In the mid-2000s, he partnered with then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) to promote a centrist solution to fixing the nation’s health care system. A July 22, 2005, Hotline article on one of the duo’s events described the former speaker as endorsing not just state-based mandates (the linchpin of Romney’s Massachusetts law) but “some federal mandates” as well. A New York Sun writeup of what appears to be the same event noted that “both politicians appeared to endorse proposals to require all individuals to have some form of health coverage.”

Neera Tanden, an aide to Clinton at the time who went on to help craft President Obama’s law, said she couldn’t recall exact speeches, but “strongly” believed that the both Clinton and Gingrich backed the individual mandate. Either way, she added, “Gingrich has been known as a supporter” of the idea for some time.

A simple newspaper archive search bears this out. At an Alegent Health event in Omaha in 2008, Gingrich said it was “fundamentally immoral” for a person to go without coverage, show up at an emergency room and demand free care.

During the keynote address to the Greater Detroit Area Health Council’s annual Health Trends Conference in April 2006, Gingrich said he would require Americans earning above a certain income level to buy health insurance or post a bond, the Detroit Free Press reported.

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