A Detailed Timeline of the Healthcare Debate portrayed in "The System"
events leading up to Clinton's Healthcare Address to Congress
March 21, 1994 - Dingell, who has already scaled back his position several times in private negotiations with other committee Democrats, lets his staff leak an eight-page revised draft that includes a big concession to small business. He realizes that members of Congress are moving away from him, as is public opinion. Dingell also finds himself fighting a two-front war. While vainly struggling to find the votes for some version of the Clinton plan, he becomes aware that a conservative alternative -proposed by Democratic J. Roy Rowland and Republican Michael Bilirakis -- is developing a dangerous amount of support.
March 23, 1994 - The Stark bill is sent to the full committee.
End of March 1994 - Republicans seize on Whitewater even more aggressively, once more linking it directly with health reform, House Republican Lamar Smith of Texas sends a letter to each of his House colleagues and all their administrative assistants and press secretaries urging them to focus on one theme in their speeches, columns for the press, and media and constituent contacts for the next week: "Whitewater and Health Care." Included in the four-page letter is a list of suggested attack sound bites and quotes to be used by all GOP colleagues. In all this time nothing has been done by the White House to launch any kind of grassroots support campaign for health care reform.
February 8, 1994 - In a singular, and unreported, triumph of principle over politics, the independent Congressional Budget Office -- resisting massive pressure from pro- and anti-Clinton forces -- delivers its nonpartisan report on the impact of Clinton's health care reform legislation on the federal budget and on overall national health expenditures.
April 1994 - With the House back from Easter recess, Dingell resumes his meetings with individual committee members. By this time, he has taken personal charge of the rescue effort. As is customary, the bill is first referred to Waxman's Health Subcommittee. Anticipating trouble, Dingell sets a deadline for subcommittee action. When Waxman is unable to get a majority report on anything resembling the administration's proposal, Dingell reclaims the bill. With concessions to various interests and other backroom deals, he can count twenty-two of the twenty-three votes he needs to report a bill but he is running out of bodies. His search comes down to one man -- Jim Slattery of Kansas. Pressure on Slattery from Dingell, President Clinton, and others is not enough to overcome the overarching influence of the NFIB's grassroots lobbying effort. The NFIB puts out an "emergency alert" to its eight thousand Kansas members to inform Slattery that an "employer mandate of any type will be devastating" to their bottom lines.
April 15, 1994 - Democrats hold their own retreat in Williamsburg, Va., to discuss divisions within the party on health care reform. George Mitchell upstages Moynihan.
April 19, 1994 - The Finance Committee begins holding closed-door sessions to discuss health care reform and deal with a central problem: how to finance the program the President wants. That same day, Rush Limbaugh, echoing the Republicans strategy line, tells his listeners that "Whitewater is about health care."
April 21, 1994 - Jim Slattery announces he will oppose any bill that includes an employer mandate. No matter how restricted it might be, he says, it can ultimately be extended to include small firms. He also decides that a failback plan he had once deemed ready to endorse is unacceptable.
Mid May 1994 - With opposition to mandates of any form growing stronger, Bob Dole goes on Meet the Press to say "individual mandates aren't going to pass." Mitchell, appearing on the same program, still holds out hope for a blend of individual and employer mandates, but even his optimism is fading. Observers say Dole, with his eye on the '96 Presidential election, will protect his right flank and move away from advocating health reform. Dole, however, continues to send private signals to Chafee and others that he wants some kind of deal. He slips Moynihan a handwritten note asking "Is it time yet for the Moynihan-Dole bill?" Moynihan is convinced he and Dole will quietly get together, make a deal, and that the bill will pass.
Late May 1994 - Dole staffers fashion the outline of an alternative reform plan.
May 31, 1994 - Even as Dole moves toward compromise, pressure from the Republican Right increases. Six prominent conservative activists -- Richard Viguerie, Phyllis Schlafly, L. Brent Bozell, and three others -- send Dole and Gingrich an open letter warning that any "willingness to coinpromise on behalf of Big Government" will make it "impossible" for Dole and Gingrich to find conservative grassroots support in 1996.
A federal grand jury indicts Rep. Rostenkowski on seventeen counts of conspiring to defraud the government. He is required to step aside as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee -- a crippling blow to any effort to pass health care reform through the House. Sam Gibbons takes over as chairman but he doesn't have the influence that Rostenkowski had.
Spring 1994 - Republicans other than Newt Gingrich begin to see a tantalizing prospect of winning control of Congress by opposing the Clinton health plan as a quintessential example of Big Government Democratic liberalism run wild. An article in the right-wing American Spectator Suggests Dole's presidential prospects hinge on his ability to block any govemment-run health care system. Dole's top aide, Sheila Burke, quickly finds herself the target of abuse from ultraconservatives because of Dole's seeming moderate stance.
Early June 1994 - Archconservatives plant stories in the news media targeting Republican moderates or anyone else who is not a "true believer." During Senate Finance Committee deliberations on the reform bill, the Washington Times weighs in with more of the same. "Some GOP colleagues and their staff view Mr. Dole's chief of staff and health care guru, Sheila Burke, as a liberal Democrat," the paper said, adding, "'Our No. 1's No. 1 is a liberal Democrat."'
June 9, 1994 - By a vote of eleven to six, Ted Kennedy reports a strong version of the Clinton plan from his Labor and Human Resources committee. Pat Moynihan -- who insists broad Republican support must be assured before any reform bill can be brought to the floor -- continues to search for a deal with Dole. Knowing Clinton's plan has no Republican support and significant Democratic opposition, Moynihan introduces his variant of it.
June 10, 1994 - Ira Magaziner attempts to mobilize the White House for its final fight. He drafts a five-page confidential memo -- titled simply WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? -- for Clinton and his top advisers. It is Magaziner's attempt to sound the "panic alarm."
June 11, 1994 - At a Republican meeting in Boston, Dole promises to "filibuster and kill" any health care bill with an employer mandate.
Mid June 1994 - A group of Republican and Democratic senators dedicated to bipartisan reform meets to try and establish some kind of consensus.
June 14, 1994 - Moynihan and Packwood meet with Clinton at the White House. Packwood bluntly tells Clinton the votes aren't there for health care reform -- not for mandates, not for universal coverage, not for alliances. He also tells Clinton that Republicans to his right are very happy to take this to the polls in November. They think they will win.
June 15, 1994 - Bill Clinton begins individual Oval Office exploratory meetings with Senate Republican moderates Chafee, Durenberger, and Danforth. Clinton impresses them with his detailed knowledge of compromises tinder discussion and his eagerness to move the process forward. He complains to Durenberger, "Every time I start in the middle, Bob Dole moves the middle to the right."
June 1994 - HIAA brings back its "Harry and Louise" campaign for another month's run, this time targeting provisions in the Clinton plan that will impose backup controls on health care spending and require standard premiums for all those insured. At the same time, HIAA -- in a blatantly cynical move -- runs a print ad that appears only in Washington and is obviously intended to be conciliatory to the playmakers of the capital. The ad emphasizes HIAA's support for universal health care coverage and insurance reform. Pro-reform groups fight back but are badly out spent. The DNC, for example, announces a one-week, $150,000 ad campaign, ostensibly designed to produce phone calls to Congress demanding "the real thing" in reform. But the DNC buys time only on Washington, D.C., stations -- not in the grassroots, where it counts.
June 19, 1994 - Bill and Hillary Clinton, frustrated by the one-sidedness of the battle, assemble top White House staff members and give them a pep talk, recommitting themselves to fighting for health coverage for every American.
June 20, 1994 - Hillary Clinton calls in a hundred representatives of labor, senior citizen, consumer, and supportive health care providers and reads them the riot act. She warns them that time is running out and urges them to stop focusing on their own concerns and focus on the universal coverage goal. Pounding the lectern in front her, she blames her allies for taking it for granted that Congress will pass a bill and "asking for this and that" to be included. Keep on seeking your "parochial victories," she warns, "and you'll end up with no bill being passed -- or a bill so weak the President will veto it."
June 28, 1994 - John Dingell admits failure. Unwilling to make any more compromises he sends a formal letter to Speaker Foley admitting that the Energy and Commerce Committee will not be able to deliver a bill.
June 29, 1994 - As Moynihan prepares for the first vote on his own draft, Dole releases details of a Republican plan that has no employer or individual mandates, no premium caps and no price controls. The major business lobbies fighting the Clinton plan swing behind the Dole-Packwood bill in the Senate, as they had done behind the Rowland-Bilirakis bill in the House. Incremental reform is all they will support. The Republican National Committee, happy to have something to be for, launches ads saying this is the way -- the only way -- to achieve bipartisan agreement.
July 1, 1994 - George Mitchell, in a meeting with the President, First Lady, Speaker Foley, and House Majority Leader Gephardt, tells Bill Clinton that a new bill needs to be proposed that doesn't have an employer mandate and is still close to universal coverage. Essentially Mitchell is saying if reform is to have any chance, they have to make a new start. The President, First Lady, and Magaziner think supporting the more liberal bill that recently passed Ted Kennedy's Labor and Human Resources Committee is the best alternative. Mitchell argues for reaching out to moderates during July, forming a consensus, and bringing the new compromise bill to the Senate floor for a vote. Eventually Mitchell's plan is approved. The President and congressional Democratic leaders agree to rally behind what will become a new stripped-down, compromise Mitchell bill.
July 2, 1994 - Legislators begin dismembering Moynihan's plan as soon as it is advanced. The Senate Finance Cominittee votes out a bill that fails to meet the President's bottom-line goal of guaranteeing universal coverage. At the same time, Republicans on the committee begin to send strong private signals to Pat Moynihan that if Democrats alienate them by pushing health care, they will retaliate by defeating GATT.
Late Summer 1994 - While Gephardt tries to line up votes, Foley tries to quell a vicious battle over committee jurisdiction. The President's most important policy initiative is hanging by a thread; a historic commitment of the Democratic Party is facing imminent defeat; an election disaster is looming. And for almost an entire month, committee chairmen and staffers on Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Education and Labor use every weapon they can find to stake out the widest possible jurisdictions for themselves to maintain.future control of a program that might not even pass.
July 19, 1994 - Bill Clinton addresses the summer meeting of the National Governors' Association in Boston. He stuns reporters and White House aides by declaring that his bottom-line demand for universal coverage can be satisfied by a "phased-in deliberate effort" to expand the ranks of the insured from the current 85 percent to "somewhere in the ballpark of ninety-five percent upwards." As if that is not enough, Clinton also says he is "open to any solution" on how to pay for more coverage and that "there may be some other way for an employer mandate to do this." Chaos quickly spreads as the White House scrambles to erase the impression that he has backed down.
July 22, 1994 - Trying to win back the kind of political support that brought them to the White House, the administration plans a bus trek across America to generate their own grassroots message to Congress for reform. A kickoff rally in Portland, Oregon, is marred by anti-Clinton protesters. When the first buses reach the highway they find a broken-down bus wreathed in red tape symbolizing government bureaucracy and hitched to a tow truck labeled, "This is Clinton Health Care." The anti-bus trek protests are the crowning success of the No Name Coalition and especially of the conservative political interest group Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE). By the time the ill-fated bus caravan takes to the highways, CSE operatives, working closely -- and secretly -- with Newt Gingrich's Capitol Hill office and with Republican senators, have mapped out plans to derail the Reform Riders wherever they go.
July 23, 1994 - Following several days of anti-Hillary rhetoric on local talk shows, Hillary Clinton -- at a bus rally in Seattle -- is confronted by hundreds of angry men shouting that the Clintons are going to destroy their way of life, ban guns, extend abortion rights, protect gays, and socialize medicine. When she finishes speaking and tries to leave the rally, her Iimousine is surrounded by protesters. Each of the four caravan routes becomes an expedition into enemy territory -- with better-armed, better-prepared, better-mobilized anti-Clinton protesters at each stop along the way. Local reform groups and caravan organizers are forced to cancel scheduled stops because of implicit threats of violence.
July 24, 1994 - In an interview with Newt Gingrich, the New York Times reports that Gingrich has united House Republicans against passage of health reform and hopes "to use the issue as a springboard to win Republican control of the House." Gingrich goes on to predict that Republicans will pick up thirty-four House seats in the November elections and that half a dozen disaffected Democrats will switch parties to give Republicans control. The story attracts little attention.
Early August 1994 - Senate and House leaders begin rallying their Democratic majorities behind two pending measures. The first is the crime bill, which has already passed by both houses and been agreed to in a Senate-House conference. Once it is approved, Democrats believe they can pass the respective health bills of Mitchell and Gephardt before the summer break, and then head home well positioned to defend their records before voters in the November elections.
August 3, 1994 - Clinton gives an emotional address in the White House Rose Garden, where he and the First Lady greet six hundred Reform Riders after their buses finally arrive in Washington -- timed to coincide with the day Mitchell introduces his health care reform "rescue" in the Senate, and Gephardt introduces his bill in the House. Mitchell's compromise is much less bureaucratic and government-driven than the Clinton plan. It puts off any requirement that employers provide employees health insurance until early in the next century. It makes a major concession to small businesses by exempting any employer with twenty-five or fewer employees from providing coverage. And it aims at guaranteeing insurance for 95 percent of Americans by the year 2000.
August 9, 1994 - The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) formally endorses both the Mitchell bill and the more liberal Gephardt measure.
Mid August 1994 - Newt Gingrich strikes. For more than a year, he has marshaled his forces like a guerrilla army and coordinated the Republican attack strategy with the congressional Theme Team and economic allies in the grassroots campaign. Now he springs his ambush by attacking -- not the Democratic health bill being introduced in the House, but the least expected target, the crime bill. His plan is to bring Congress to a halt, strand the health effort, send lawmakers home, and deny Democrats the opportunity to record a vote on health care reform before the fall elections.
August 11, 1994 - Foley and Gephardt try to bring the crime bill before the full House for debate and then a vote. They know the procedural vote to begin debate will be close but they expect to prevail. Instead they lose by fifteen votes after fifty eight Democrats bolt their party and join the opposition. Congressional leaders announce that health care will be delayed indefinitely. Delay and obstruction also tie up the Senate.
August 15, 1994 - Mitchell threatens to keep the Senate in nonstop, round-the-clock session until Republicans agree to start voting.
August 16, 1994 - The final round of "Harry and Louise" commercials begins airing nationally. At the same time, the final outpouring of faxes, phone calls, and letters mounted by the small-business lobby floods Washington offices.
August 18, 1994 - Democrats gather for a private leadership luncheon. Though the initial remarks by senators are polite, they clearly contain strong criticism of the Mitchell bill. The meeting erupts into a stormy confrontation between Ted Kennedy and Bob Kerrey, who get into a shouting match that shows how deep the divisions in the Democratic party have become. This leaves observers stunned and convinced the party is falling apart.
August 19, 1994 - The Mainstream Coalition produces its alternative proposal. It is immediately denounced by both Left and Right. The battle against health care reform is increasingly being driven by the conviction that Republicans, for generations the minority congressional party, are on the verge of an electoral victory of historic proportions.
August 25, 1994 - Democratic leaders of both congressional chambers give up on health care and announce they are letting their members go home for their much-postponed vacation. Neither the Senate (where Democrats outnumber Republicans fifty-six to forty-four) nor the House (with a Democratic majority of 257 to 176) has come close to passing, or even voting on, any health bill.
Late August 1994 - Democrats begin preparing for the November elections by distancing themselves from their President -- and from the reform he has attempted.
Early September 1994 - Top aides to Kennedy, Mitchell, and Chafee, in round-theclock sessions, prepare a final compromise bill that will be ready when Congress returns on September 19.
September 19, 1994 - The New York Times reports remarks -- never subsequently denied -- that Bob Packwood made to his Republican senatorial colleagues during closed-door strategy sessions while he was managing the Republican attack during the summer. "We've killed health care reform," Packwood told his fellow Republican senators. "Now we've got to make sure our fingerprints are not on it." For many this is the "smoking gun": proof of a carefully plotted, and secret, Republican strategy.
Congress reconvenes. Mitchell hopes to set aside four days for Senate debate on the new Mainstream bill and then schedule a straight up-or-down vote. Republicans begin mobilizing for a filibuster to keep the bill from reaching the floor. Supporters realize they don't have enough votes to break the filibuster.
September 20, 1994 - Newt Gingrich privately warns Bill Clinton in the White House that if he continues to push for health reform in the closing days of the session, he will lose the Republican support needed to pass GATT, which the President believes is critical to the U.S. economic position as the leader of the Western alliance. George Mitchell, repeating this Gingrich threat to colleagues privately immediately after, describes it as "an atomic bomb blast."
September 26, 1994 - At a news conference in the Capitol, George Mitchell pulls the plug on health care reform.
September 27, 1994 - William Kristol of the Project for the Republican Future spell out the next stage of the battle plan to change the makeup of Congress. "I think we can continue to wrap the Clinton plan around the necks of Democratic candidates." Some observers urge the White House to make some kind of public statement about special interests, all the money expended, and the fact that most Republicans were clearly committed from day one to killing reform, but no statement is forthcoming.
October 7, 1994 - Congress adjourns.
November 8, 1994 - Voters deliver a massive repudiation of President Clinton, break the forty-year hold of Democrats on Congress, restore Republicans to power at ever level of government, and set the stage for a further test over the nation's ideological future in 1996. In two years the Democrats have gone from a controlling majority 258 seats in the House of Representatives to a minority of 204. In all the contests House, Senate, and gubernatorial seats, not a single Republican seeking reelection loses.
Late 1994 - As the Gingrich Revolution in Congress prepares to assume office, a Gallup poll shows that 72 percent of the public lists major health care reform as a top or high priority. Only crime and deficit reduction rank higher.