As health care debate heats up, remember the past

Health Care is likely to be issue number one in the weeks and months ahead. Obama is moving fast to use his political capitol while it lasts, as should be expected.

In Michael Nelson‘s The Presidency and the Political System, political scientist Daniel J. Tichenor notes:

“Adversarial politics took its toll on public support Clinton‘s health care reform, which drifted downward from 67 percent in a September 1993 Washington Post/ABC News poll to 44 percent in February 1994. Destined for defeat, the Health Security Act was never put to a vote in either the House of the Senate.”

So in a span of five months, Clinton lost 23 points in support for his plan. There are a number of reasons why that happened, but obviously among the most significant was the bold opposition from industry players and conservative interest groups.

Can a similarly robust effort be counted on this time around? While there will no doubt be a fight, there are troubling indications that some of the natural opposition has been weakened or perhaps even neutralized.

For starters, more people now rely on the government for health care through programs like Medicare Part D and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Folks already receiving public assistance for health care are less likely to resist further expansion of the government’s role in the nation’s health care system.

Beyond that, it has been reported that Obama has already lured to the table some industry stakeholders who were opposed to nationalization plans the last time around. The president and left wing interest groups may not want to involve the insurance industry, but if they can do so in a way that allows them significant, if incremental, change towards their liking, then they’ll have no problem doing so if it paves the way for passage.

We are in, as Tichenor might say, in a potential period of “breakthrough politics,” rather than “politics as usual,” in which conditions are ripe for sweeping policy changes with significant impact on the country. Thankfully, the Chamber of Commerce has come out in force, and some congressional Republicans seem to be finding their footing in terms of opposition.

Those of us opposed to a government health care takeover have our work cut out for us. But let us remember and be encouraged by lessons of past success. We need to keep industry on board and let the American people know the true cost of socialized medicine.

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