By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
Updated 2:30 p.m. Thursday
LINCOLN, Neb. — Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey has endorsed Midland University President Ben Sasse for the U.S. Senate in Nebraska, departing from the conservative organization he helped found, FreedomWorks.
The tea party-affiliated FreedomWorks endorsed former State Treasurer Shane Osborn just days earlier — in a split from two other conservative groups, Senate Conservatives Fund and the Club for Growth, that went with Sasse.
Armey is former chairman of FreedomWorks, which he left last year after a bitter feud. The former House majority leader assisted Republicans in taking over the House in the 1990s, helping write the conservative Contract with America before retiring in 2002. He then got involved with the tea party movement, becoming co-chairman of Citizens for a Sound Economy, which merged with Empower America to become FreedomWorks in 2004.
In his endorsement, Armey took a swipe at Osborn, saying, “We don’t need career politicians running because this is just the next rung on the ladder for them.”
In an interview with Nebraska Watchdog, Armey said he’s endorsing Sasse because “the guy is amazing” and shares his small government point of view.
“I think we should have a small government clearly focused on essential tasks,” Armey said. “He’s got a remarkable record of actually accomplishing things in education, in the private sector economy.”
He also likes Sasse’s opposition to Obamacare, which he called the biggest public issue of our generation.
“It doesn’t hurt that he probably understands Obamacare as well as anybody alive,” Armey said.
Sasse often says he read the entire Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) and has made his opposition to the law the centerpiece of his campaign, making a video in which he called on members of Congress to live by the law.
Which is why Armey said he found FreedomWorks’ decision to endorse Osborn “curious.”
“It struck me as a little peculiar because Osborn seems to be exactly the kind of Republican establishment candidate that they’ve been averse to in the past,” he said. “I’m baffled by that. It is not a choice that’s consistent with their past behavior.”
However, FreedomWorks’ vice president of public policy, Dean Clancy, said Armey’s allegations “made me chuckle” because in 2009, while Sasse was “offering the Democrats advice on how to impose a government health care solution,” Osborn was attending Tea Party rallies denouncing Obamacare.
“If anybody is an establishment candidate in this race, it’s Sasse,” he said. “I would just say that Dick Armey should take a closer look as we’ve tried to do.”
Clancy said he’s been following national health care policy for 20 years, and “Sasse may be able to wow people with his knowledge, but he can’t fool somebody who has spent a lot of time studying these issues, as I have.”
Clancy calls Sasse inauthentic, and says he’s just positioning himself as the anti-Obamacare candidate for political reasons.
“Our reason for endorsing Osborn is that we think he’s the true anti-Obamacare candidate in the race,” Clancy said.
FreedomWorks calls Sasse a “Mitt Romney-style technocrat masquerading for temporary political purposes an an anti-Obamacare firebrand.” They accuse him of wanting to replace Obamacare with “Obamacare Lite.”
They point to a 2010 BusinessWeek column Sasse wrote in which he said there was an emerging consensus that the individual mandating requiring all citizens to have health insurance might be a good idea. The central crux of the column, however, was on Congress rushing to pass a bad bill that wouldn’t solve the problem.
Sasse supports universal coverage through premium support, but that’s a top-down approach that only works with government coercion, Clancy said.
“He calls it a market approach but you can’t do it without mandates,” he said.
Questions have been raised recently about Sasse’s past support for the prescription drug benefit called Medicare Part D when he was assistant secretary of Health and Human Services in George W. Bush’s administration. He now says he opposes the program.
Clancy cites a 2009 U.S. News and World Report column where Sasse said Medicare Part D was “enormously successful,” a “policymaker’s dream” and a model for America’s health care system. Sasse was no longer working for Bush when he wrote it.
“That’s a top-down approach relying on coercion,” Clancy said. “He was for Part D before he was against it.”
FreedomWorks calls Medicare Part D an “unaffordable government program that added trillions to the nation’s unfunded liabilities.”
In the same column, Sasse also said Medicare Part D’s “patient-empowering solutions” would work better than the central planning, government price-setting and mandated coverage levels in the bill being considered in the Senate.
Clancy also cited a 2010 Fremont Tribune story where Sasse says Republicans didn’t have the votes to repeal or defund Obamacare and called the law “an important first step” in thinking about health care coverage.
“He has a credibility problem when speaking about his desire to uproot Obamacare,” Clancy said.
Osborn, on the other hand, is a Milton Friedman disciple and an “authentic Tea Party conservative” who’s been involved in the movement from the beginning, Clancy said.
“He’s just the real deal,” he said.
Armey disagrees with Clancy.
“What he’s saying is not consistent with the facts,” he said. “My first awareness of him was his intellectually astute opposition to Obamacare.”
He suggested FreedomWorks isn’t divulging the real reason they went with Osborn.
“My guess is that…they have a reason they do not want to talk about,” he said. “I left there because I found their behavior curious, unexplainable and unacceptable so don’t ask me to explain them.”
Armey and other conservative groups don’t seem overly bothered by Sasse’s stance on Medicare Part D.
“That’s not Obamacare, and at the time he was serving under the president,” Armey said. “There are many times you disagree with the position taken by the team.”
In response to the brouhaha, Sasse’s campaign manager Tyler Grassmeyer released a statement saying, “Ben knows more about Obamacare than any other candidate running for Senate today. He has crusaded against it since 2009, and anyone who say’s he isn’t a true anti-Obamacare guy is simply not paying attention to the facts.”
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