When Newt and Pence were on opposite sides

When Newt and Pence were on opposite sides

The two rumored finalists to become Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSecret Service members who helped organize Pence Arizona trip test positive for COVID-19: report Trump administration planning pandemic office at the State Department: report Iran releases photo of damaged nuclear fuel production site: report MORE’s running mate faced off in a massive lobbying effort on a controversial bill during George W. Bush’s first term.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and then-Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) were on opposite sides of the fence on Bush’s effort to expand Medicare to include a prescription drug benefit.


Gingrich said at the time the bill was essential to reform the Medicare system. Pence, who is now governor of Indiana, noted the legislation wasn’t paid for and was far too costly.

The year was 2003. Seniors across the country were furious at the high prices of pharmaceuticals, and cable networks showed some of them getting on buses to Canada to purchase cheaper medications. Bush, who won the hotly contested 2000 presidential election, knew he needed the senior vote to secure a second term.

If a bill didn’t pass, Democrats would blame the GOP-led Congress and the Republican president for not getting it done.

But some conservatives, including Pence, had already grown tired of Bush’s fondness for expanding government. In a post-9/11 world with the nation’s debt increasing, they said it was not the time for the biggest Medicare expansion since its inception in the mid-1960s.

Gingrich, meanwhile, was on board. He was pushing for the bill to pass and was in regular communication with key members, including then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and then-House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.). In an interview at the time, Gingrich indicated he was trying to get votes: “I’m not doing this for fun.”

Pence, who had been elected in 2000 with Bush at the top of the ticket, was taking on his president and his leaders in the House. As a freshman, he rejected the president’s No Child Left Behind Act and later openly questioned Bush’s conservative credentials.

On Medicare, the Indiana lawmaker spearheaded the effort to buck Bush in the high-profile November 2003 vote. Most Democrats ripped the measure, claiming it was written by prescription drug lobbyists and would do little to help seniors. House GOP leaders knew they didn’t have the votes when they brought the bill to the floor and were ready to twist arms.

On the night of the vote, Pence huddled with a couple dozen Republicans at a Chinese restaurant on Capitol Hill to come up with a game plan to torpedo Bush’s top domestic policy priority. The plan was simple: Vote no, stay together and don’t change your mind. Another Republican at Hunan Dynasty that evening was then-Rep. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeCheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama GOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism MORE (R-Ariz.), a good friend of Pence’s who is now a vocal critic of Trump in the Senate.

But the pressure was intense for Republicans to vote yes. They were told if they didn’t pass this $400 billion bill, Bush would lose, the Congress could flip and/or they would be later forced to pass a “$720 billion HillaryCare” drug bill.

With Pence and Flake huddled in the back of the chamber, the vote started at 3 a.m. It was supposed to be a 15-minute vote, but Pence’s army of conservatives teamed up with Democrats to jump out to a big lead. Republican leaders, including then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), pressed Republicans to change their minds. A few did.

At 4 a.m., the vote stood at 216-218. Soon before 5 a.m., a call was made to the White House and Bush was soon on the phone with several Republicans. Just before 6 a.m., two Republicans, Rep. Trent FranksHarold (Trent) Trent FranksArizona New Members 2019 Cook shifts 8 House races toward Dems Freedom Caucus members see openings in leadership MORE (R-Ariz.) and then-Rep. Butch Otter (R-Idaho), changed their votes and a Medicare drug benefit was subsequently enacted into law.

Later reminiscing about “the longest vote,” Pence told The Hill, “That night was about courage.”

The drug benefit has proven to be popular with seniors and was not nearly as costly as some critics had predicted. While Pence has called for significant Medicare reforms, Trump has shied away from proposing entitlement changes.

Gingrich, meanwhile, has been a newsmaker on healthcare for decades. He has written extensively on the issue, including his 2003 book titled, “Saving Lives and Saving Money.”

In the fall of 1995, Gingrich attracted controversy with a comment about Medicare that is still cited by Democrats. They said Gingrich said Medicare “should wither on the vine.” Gingrich and other Republicans said that was false, claiming he said the government agency that runs Medicare should wither on the vine.