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Opening Arguments

Will on Pence

Our editorial page has been hard on Gov. Mike Pence both for his Common Core efforts and his negotiating with the Obama administration on Medicaid expansion. Our general gripe has been the usual conservative one -- that he seems to be trying to have it both ways, speaking one way and actually acting another way. So in the interest of fairness, I feel I should call your attention to this George Will column in which he offers praise for Pence on both issues.

On Common Core:

In 2001, as a freshman congressman, Pence was one of just 34 House Republicans to vote against President George W. Bush’s pride and joy, the No Child Left Behind education legislation, which Pence considered a federal usurpation of a state and local responsibility, K-12 education. In 2010, with the Obama administration blandishing $5 billion in Race to the Top funds as bribes, Indiana was among the 37 states that embraced Common Core standards. Under Pence, however, Indiana became the first state to formally withdraw from Common Core.

But because some critics consider the standards that Pence’s administration wrote insufficiently unlike Common Core’s, he is excoriated as insufficiently hostile to “Obamacore.” But the content of the Common Core standards is beside the point. Even excellent content would not redeem Common Core, because it abets what Pence correctly says will, unless Common Core is stopped, eventually become federal micromanagement of K-12 education. If Hoosiers want different standards, Pence says, they now are forever free to write them.

And on Medicaid:

In 2003, Pence was one of just 19 Republicans to defy the Bush administration’s excruciating pressure to vote for the Medicare Part D, the unfunded prescription-drug entitlement. So, having demonstrated, as with No Child Left Behind, his conservative credentials, he deserved conservatives’ trust when he responded to Obamacare’s push for expansion of traditional Medicaid by negotiating from the Obama administration remarkable concessions that are a template for nationwide Medicaid reform.

The administration reluctantly conceded what Pence calls “the foundation of consumer-driven health care,” the requirement that people make a financial contribution (in Indiana, to a Health Savings Account) and that there be consequences — they are locked out of the system for six months — if they do not.

Conservatives who despise any transaction with Barack Obama dismiss Pence’s achievement. But Pence’s plan is warmly endorsed by Grace-Marie Turner, a leading advocate of replacing Obamacare with consumer-directed health-care reform. She says conservatives should applaud Pence for making Medicaid more like a Health Savings Account, under which purchasers of high-deductible insurance use HSA tax-preferred savings to pay for routine medical expenses.

Will also like's Pence's anti-federal growth demeanor, both during his time as a member of Congress and his current tenure as governor. Obama has pushed government to be all it can be. Pence as president would promise to be less than he could be:

In 2010, before Obama’s institutional vandalism against the separation of powers had confronted the country with the most lawless presidency since Richard Nixon’s, Pence delivered an address in which he said, “The president is not our teacher, our tutor, our guide, or ruler.” There is a presidential “duty of self-restraint” because “a president who slights the Constitution is like a rider who hates his horse: He will be thrown, and the nation along with him.”

Will thinks it is Pence's misfortune that Republicans' desire for ideological purity over pragmatic experience will lead them to vote for a senator over a governor. I dunno. I think the country is ready for a governor with actual executive experience. But I think Scott Walker has stepped into that void. Not sure if there is room for Pence there.