A Detailed Timeline of the Healthcare Debate portrayed in "The System"
Events following Clinton's Healthcare Address to Congress through March 1994
September 22, 1993 - Bill Clinton, delivers his health care speech to a joint session of Congress. Despite an initial snafu with the wrong text being loaded onto the TelePrompTer, the speech is a smash. The President's delivery is superb, powerful, and compelling. Response is overwhelmingly favorable. During TV interviews immediately afterward, House and Senate Republicans criticize Clinton for failing to provide specific details. HIAA and NFIB lobbyists, as well as lobbyists for other organizations, condemn the President's remarks and repeatedly charge that the Clinton plan will lead to a "tremendous dislocation of employees" and prevent American families from keeping the health care they already have.
September 28, 1993 - Hillary Clinton begins several days of testimony on health care before five congressional committees. Her appearance is both dramatic and triumphant. Its very success, however, triggers new and intense activity among opponents who see in her a foe whose defeat will require their most determined efforts.
October 3, 1993 - The President and First Lady -- who have been appearing around the country to drum up public support for health care reform -- depart for California in what they hope will be a final push before delivering their plan, in legislative form, to Congress.
Early October 1993 - Clinton's attention is distracted by crises in Somalia, Haiti and Russia, as well as the upcoming NAFTA vote. All but one presidential health care event scheduled for October is canceled. The administration loses the momentum gained from the President's September 22 speech and Hillary's follow-up week of congressional testimony.
October 6, 1993 - Jim Cooper and Fred Grandy introduce the updated version of Cooper's health care bill. Privately Cooper is convinced the White House will have to bend and accept his position.
October - November 1993 - Ira Magaziner is besieged by interest group representatives and members of Congress, all demanding last-minute adjustments to the Clinton plan. Heavy pressure comes from inside the government -- particularly from career bureaucrats who are worried about parts of the bill that will ease government regulations. At the same time, Magaziner is under pressure from the people who are writing the actual legislation to stop the changes and let them finish their work.
October 27, 1993 - Clinton, in an attempt to recapture public support, formally presents his plan to Congress in a staged media event in the old chamber of the House. Press commentators quickly point out that the ceremony is taking place under false pretenses. Though it is billed as the moment when the Clintons will deliver their revamped Health Security Act into the hands of Congress, the legislation remains to be drafted. House Minority Leader Bob Michel of Illinois stuns observers with a forceful, bold, and unsparing attack on the very premise of the Clinton plan. Even those who have not closely followed the debate immediately understand what this laying down of the gauntlet by a moderate like Michel means: It is a clear signal of all-out Republican opposition.
November 1, 1993 - Hillary Clinton launches a scathing attack against the insurance industry to counter the highly damaging "Harry and Louise" ads. She accuses the industry of greed and deliberately lying about the reform plan in order to protect its profits. She specifically denounces the ads' claim that the Clinton plan "limits choice." Rarely, if ever, has a First Lady publicly attacked any American industry or industry group -- and certainly never in such strong language and in such a furious manner. Her assault makes front-page newspaper stories, network TV news shows, and calls more attention to HIAA's role and message.
The success of HIAA ads give an immense boost to the organization's fund-raising. In the space of a few weeks, the budget for the campaign expands fivefold from $4 million to $20 million. In the end, HIAA raises and spends about $30 million more than its normal annual operating budget of $20 million -- a grand total of almost $50 million to the lobbying effort. The money HIAA accumulates for the fight pays not only for the Harry and Louise ads but also for a grassroots campaign that dwarfs anything the interest group has ever done. The effort produces more than four hundred fifty thousand contacts with Congress -- phone calls, visits, or letters -almost a thousand to every member of the House and Senate.
November 20, 1993 - The Health Care bill is finally presented to Congress. It is the last day of the 1993 session. The legislation comes under immediate criticism from opponents -- including many Democrats -- who see in its length and language proof that their claims are correct: This is government-run health care.
December 2, 1993 - Leading conservative operative William Kristol privately circulates a strategy document to Republicans in Congress. Kristol writes that congressional Republicans should work to "kill" -- not amend -- the Clinton plan because it presents a real danger to the Republican future: Its passage will give the Democrats a lock on the crucial middle-class vote and revive the reputation of the party. Nearly a full year before Republicans will unite behind the "Contract With America," Kristol has provided the rationale and the steel for them to achieve their aims of winning control of Congress and becoming America's majority party. Killing health care will serve both ends. The timing of the memo dovetails with a growing private consensus among Republicans that all-out opposition to the Clinton plan is in their best political interest. Until the memo surfaces, most opponents prefer behind-the-scenes warfare largely shielded from public view. The boldness of Kristol's strategy signals a new turn in the battle. Not only is it politically acceptable to criticize the Clinton plan on policy grounds, it is also politically advantageous. By the end of 1993, blocking reform poses little risk as the public becomes increasingly fearful of what it has heard about the Clinton plan.
December 19, 1993 - Stories about a new Clinton scandal -- "Troopergate" -- and Whitewater continue to chip away at the reserves of political capital the President and First Lady will need when Congress returns in January.
January 3, 1994 - Harold Ickes, the new deputy White House chief of staff, is chosen to be the political director of the health care reform battle in its critical final phase. For his first two weeks on the job, when he should be focusing on health reform, he is forced to spend nearly all his time coordinating the White House response to a torrent of Whitewater stories and increased calls for the appointment of a special prosecutor. Republicans link Whitewater with health care reform in an allout campaign coordinated with the conservative talk radio network. The result: rising doubts that the public can trust Clinton in either case.
January 25, 1994 - In his State of the Union address, President Clinton tries to refocus public attention on health care reform as Congress prepares to wrestle with the actual legislative proposals. In the most dramatic moment of the speech Clinton unequivocally lays down the gauntlet, promising to fight to the end. He threatens to veto any legislation that does not guarantee every American private health insurance. Moynihan and Foley say privately this is a serious mistake.
The barrage of Whitewater stories continues, creating a siege mentality at the White House. Republicans openly embrace William Kristol's latest advice: Oppose any Clinton health care reform "sight unseen" and adopt a stance that "There is no health care crisis." Bob Dole uses this approach in his State of the Union response. During his talk Dole uses a chart -- depicting a bewildering array of new government agencies and programs -- to hammer home his point that the Clinton plan is government-run health care. The chart becomes a centerpiece in Capitol Hill debates and further frightens a public already Suspicious of government and increasingly distrustful of the President and the First Lady who have designed this new government program.
Late January 1994 - A critically influential -- and intensely controversial -- pair of articles appears on the Wall Street Journal's conservative editorial page and in the liberal New Republic. Written by an obscure staffer of the conservative Manhattan Institute, the fear-mongering articles paint a devastating account of the impact of the Clinton plan. The White House, and other independent experts, say the articles are filled with patent falsehoods and distortions. Notwithstanding the criticism, the articles become highly influential, especially in conservative circles. Newt Gingrich will later characterize them as "the first decisive breakpoint" in support for the Clinton plan.
Early February 1994 - Another blow is dealt to the President's credibility as former Arkansas state employee Paula Corbin Jones announces a lawsuit against him for sexual harassment and civil rights violations.
After an intense backstage White House lobbying campaign fails, the Business Roundtable, perhaps the most prestigious of all business groups, endorses the rival Cooper plan as the best "starting point" for congressional action on health care reform.
The Chamber of Commerce of the United States changes its position and comes out against the Clinton plan. Behind the change of direction is an intensive grassroots campaign, waged against the Chamber's national leadership by congressional Republicans and the No Name Coalition. What the White House has expected to be a major pillar of support for reform -- the big-business community -- has been eliminated.
February 5, 1994 - The board of the National Association of Manufacturers passes a resolution declaring its opposition to the Clinton plan.
March 1994 - Democrat John Dingell approaches Carlos Moorhead of California -the senior Republican on his committee -- to raise the possibility of working out a health bill together. According to Dingell, Moorhead responds: "There's no way you're going to get a single vote on this [Republican] side of the aisle. You will not only not get a vote here, but we've been instructed that if we participate in that undertaking at all, those of us who do will lose Our seniority and will not be ranking minority members within the Republican Party." Thwarted on the Republican side of the aisle, Dingell turns back to his Democrats -- and once again finds Jim Cooper standing in his way.
March 4-5, 1994 - Senate Republicans caucus privately in Annapolis, Maryland, in a retreat organized by Republican John Chafee, whose bill nominally has more support than any other from the Senate GOP. Going into Annapolis, Dole and Chafee still hold the view that public opinion and political prudence require Republicans to come up with an alternative to the Clinton plan. They view the erosion of public support as an opportunity for the Republicans to steal Clinton's thunder, not to block any change.
At Dole's invitation, Newt Gingrich comes to the meeting. He implicitly warns GOP senators that any Republican concessions will be met with more Democratic demands. Phill Gramm also weighs in against any Republican compromise on health reform. The original list of speakers expands to include business lobbyists and consultants suggested by conservatives. Chafee -- who had hoped to discuss areas of agreement -- finds himself listening to speeches of opposition. This meeting becomes a crucial step, not in forming a Republican alternative to the Clinton plan but in demonstrating to Dole how dangerous it will be for him to be part of any compromise.
March 13, 1994 - The Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, under Pete Stark, starts considering a bill featuring a plan to expand Medicare. Thanks largely to Stark's aggressive sponsorship, Medicare C, as the bill is called, becomes the House version of the Clinton plan.
March 15, 1994 - Five candidates surface to challenge Rep. Dan Rostenkowski for reelection. They are emboldened by legal challenges Rostenkowski faces from federal prosecutors who are looking into allegations that he has misused official accounts. Rosty, the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, will be critical in passing the Stark bill if it comes through the Subcominittee.