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Sep 28, 2009 11:28 pm

Deja Vu on Health Care

President Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress have come close to missing the opportunity for health care reform because they failed to heed the history of Republican obstruction on the issue. The lessons of the health care debates from 1993-1994 is that GOP cooperation cannot be expected on any health care proposal. Rather their only objective is to deliver a major defeat to the Democratic president.

Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina recently said that health care “will be his [Obama’s] Waterloo.” As I noted in my book, White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement, in a 1993 strategy memo to fellow Republicans Representative Dick Armey of Texas used a similar military metaphor.

The debate over health care he said is “the Battle of the Bulge of big-government liberalism.” He wrote that Democrats were “launching a final desperate gambit to win the permanent loyalty of the great middle class through dependency on a massive new government entitlement. On the outcome of this gambit hangs the future, not only of the Republican party, but of every American citizen.” The defeat of health care reform, he presciently argued, should mean “the end of the Clinton ascendancy and the start of the Republican renaissance.”

In a blog entry this week, Republican strategist and magazine editor William Kristol advised his party to “go for the kill” on health care. Sixteen years ago, Kristol likewise urged Republicans to reject “sight unseen” any plan for health care reform developed by the Clinton administration.

The defeat of health care reform in 1993-94 was a political success for the GOP, but a disaster for the nation. During the next 16 years the American health care crisis has gone from bad to worse. Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress in the midterm elections 1994, but did nothing to promote comprehensive health care reform, an issue that President George W. Bush also let languish during his eight years in office.

Few Americans will remember the partisan alignment of votes on a health care bill. But few Americans will forget the Democrats’ failure to deliver their promises on health care reform. The Democrats should use their control of both houses of Congress to enact needed legislation regardless of Republican opposition. Otherwise the Democrats and the nation will witness a sad replay of 1994.

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