March 25, 2005

Half-Formed Inquiry

Just a quick thought while I try to shuffle off this mortal coil of work this afternoon. Ezra Klein recently read The System—David Broder's classic account of the failure of health care reform in 1993—and concluded that the system is, in fact, not conducive to large-scale reform. That certainly wasn't the impression I got when I read the book a while back; it mostly just seemed that the Clintons flubbed a major policy debate, and Ira Magaziner utterly screwed the pooch in his efforts to craft reform legislation. Likewise, looking at the phase-out debate today, there's no systematic reason why the privatizers should be flailing. They could have gone about this project all differently and be in a strong position right now to phase out Social Security as desired. But they didn't, so they're not. In the interests of hackdom, I won't say what those alternative steps that they could've taken are, at least not until the Republicans are firmly entrenched in minority status come 2007.

But here's what I'd like to know. Back in 1993, of course, a few Republicans did have their own alternative plans for health care, but slowly retracted them once they decided that it was in their best interest to obstruct at all costs, a position that hardened around January '94. Bob Dole even decided to vote against his own health care proposal (the one co-sponsored with Chaffee pere) to this end. But did the media ever put pressure on them to offer a serious alternative plan? In '94, Dole and the GOP started chanting over and over that there was no health care crisis in America, even though most Americans disagreed. Did the TV talking heads ever accuse Bob Dole of sticking his head in the sand, carping and carping without any real ideas of his own?

Looking through Nexis, I can't find much. There's Howard Kurtz slamming the attack dogs for offering "no alternative" on 2/13/94. Interestingly, on 2/2/94 William Schneider got on CNN to say that if the Republicans kept digging their heels in the dirt, they'd run the danger of looking like "obstructionists." (Quoth Schneider: "So they're in a bind.") But the GOP, of course, didn't suffer any backlash for being obstructionists—which offers a sound example for any Democrat today thinking about offering a compromise on Social Security for political reasons.

Anyway, I'll have to go through this in more detail later (or, if someone wants to beat me to the punch, go for it) and hopefully write something up for MoJo, but I'd like to know a) if the media was urging the GOP in 1994 to compromise as heavily as they're urging the Democrats to compromise today, and b) if there was a similarly heavy urging, how did the GOP manage to beat the obstructionist rap in '94?

UPDATE: Heh. From US News & World Report, 2/7/94:
Yet Clinton himself enjoys some significant political advantages as the battle begins. As he demonstrated last week, the president can command public attention in ways that no opponent can begin to match. And his sympathy for the fears of ordinary Americans connects with voters and echoes their own concerns. For that reason, many Republican strategists are aghast at the new line of some GOP leaders that there is ''no crisis" in the health care system. That argument, says Vin Weber, a former GOP congressman, ''just reinforces the image of flint-hearted Republicans," the same image that helped cost George Bush the 1992 election. Celinda Lake agrees: ''I hope we get every Republican candidate saying there is no crisis -- on tape."
-- Brad Plumer 4:53 PM || ||