The Ghost of 1993

The fervor surrounding the current debate on health care naturally invites comparison to Hillarycare in 1993. I have spent a lot of time thinking about whether the Democrats can succeed with their plans for reform, or if Republicans can use the issue to gain seats in the House of Representatives and Senate like they did in 1994. President Obama, like President Clinton, decided to focus on providing medical care to all Americans early in the first term of his presidency. Both had sympathetic majorities in the House and Senate. They each faced immediate criticism from conservatives who argued that any plan would impede the patient’s right to choose. Nonetheless, President Obama believes he has learned from President Clinton's mistakes. This is why he has made sure that pharmaceutical companies are on board with reform. This strategy does not, however, guarantee success. As in 1993, the Democratic Party is not marching in lockstep. Perhaps this is a result of the Democratic leadership deciding to back moderate candidates in the last two elections. This partly explains the slow progress being made by Democrats despite such overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate. Even with these setbacks, I don't think health care reform is doomed and a Republican takeover of Congress in 2010  is not inevitable.

The current state of the Republican Party is quite different from 1993-94. For one thing, they do not have the momentum that the Contract with America gave the GOP before the 1994 midterm election. Some believe the so-called “Purity Test” idea being floated around is similar, but there are important differences. While the “Purity Test,” officially titled "Reagan's Unity Principal for Support of Candidates," does point to general statements made by every conservative politician (e.g. smaller government), the Contract with America gave specific actions the Republicans would take if elected, such as hiring an outside firm to audit the federal government for waste and fraud. Also, of the ten items placed on the Purity Test, seven are promises to oppose specific legislation by the Democrats, stating opposition to health care reform twice. The Contract with America, on the other hand, outlined eight specific actions the new Congress would take on its first day, along with ten other “Acts” the Republican Party would strive to make law.

Given the difficulty of predicting the political future, I will make my estimate a conservative one. It is likely that, even after the “Miracle in Massachusetts” (the election of Scott Brown), the Democrats will be able to pass some form of health care reform. The fact that the Democrats still have a strong majority in both legislative houses will favor them, but now Republicans should have enough votes to exert more influence in shaping the legislation (that means you can kiss any dream of a public option goodbye). Ultimately, though, I don’t believe they have enough power to kill all health care reform. Furthermore, I do not believe a Republican seizure of power is inevitable. Although there is a very good chance that the Republicans will tear away a few seats from the Democrats (they did win a Senate election in Massachusetts after all). It's possible they may even take back the House, but we may very well see legislative power remain with the left for at least a few more years.