A Detailed Timeline of the Healthcare Debate portrayed in "The System"
events following the 1994 Republican takover
January 3, 1995 - Newt Gingrich receives the Speaker's gavel from Dick Gephardt and becomes the fiftieth Speaker of the House. Fourteen hours and fifteen roll calls later, the Gingrich-led House has rammed through every bill they introduced. Not a single Republican votes against any of them. Eventually house Republicans pass every bill incorporated into the Contract With America -- except for a term-limits constitutional amendment -- within their first 100 days. Nothing more dramatically signals how great a change has occurred than the boldness with which special-interes lobbyists openly work with Republicans to pass their bills. So confident of their new position of power and influence are the lobbyists that they even permit reporters and photographers to attend what previously would have been highly private sessions.
Early 1995 - Republicans turn to writing a budget, and health care reform reemerges as a major issue. This time, however, the shoe is on the other foot. New Republicans discover they cannot achieve their objectives without addressing the very same questions that have plagued the Clinton administration for the last two years.
February 6, 1995 - Clinton drafts a new budget. It contains no new health care proposals or savings for Medicare. Republicans complain that Clinton is walking away from the problem. What he is really doing is forcing them to take the first step.
February 14, 1995 - Senate Majority Leader Dole announces that in order to meet the Republican goal of balancing the budget within seven years, "savings" of $146 billion in Medicare spending and another $75 billion in Medicaid will have to be achieved.
February 1995 - Republicans promise to balance the budget within seven years without a tax increase, even substantially reducing taxes. To reach their goal Republican budget chairmen in both houses ask for unprecedented reductions in the two largest federal health care programs. They propose reducing more than $250 billion from Medicare and more than $175 billion from Medicaid. Battlelines quickly form. Now the Republicans face pressure to persuade a doubtful public that their plan will save and strengthen, not weaken and destroy, the public-sector health care system. The Republicans try to ward off the danger by demanding Bill Clinton act responsibly with them to save the health care system and join a bipartisan commission to suggest needed changes in Medicare. The White House declines, saying the Republicans are asking for the largest Medicare cut in history to pay for tax cuts for the well off.
March 1995 - Republicans go on the offensive. A Republican pollster circulates an eight-page private memo among House Republicans warning them that senior citizens will never accept changes in Medicare until they are "convinced the system's going broke." He urges them to "Remind your audience that Republicans want to 'increase spending but at a slower rate."' He also advises the new Republican House to accuse Democrats of "using 'scare tactics' by allowing a program to go broke . . . just to score political points."
April 1995 - Using focus groups, Republicans zero in on a sales pitch for their Medicare plans. In its final form, the pitch becomes a pledge to "preserve, protect and strengthen Medicare for the next generation." On other side of the aisle, congressional Democrats unify in their opposition to Republican plans to "destroy" Medicare.
June 13, 1995 - Bill Clinton seems to pull the rug out from under congressional Democrats by announcing that he has decided to join the Republicans in the quest to erase the budget deficit. His balanced budget target date is ten years, not seven as with Republicans. Privately, many Democrats are furious with Clinton and mutter about either not supporting him for reelection or encouraging others to oppose him for their party's nomination. But the President's aboutface strengthens, not weakens, his hand. By agreeing with the goal of a balanced budget, Clinton undercuts the Republican claim to be the real defenders of fiscal responsibility and puts himself in a better position to fight "excessive cuts" in health care and other programs.
September 1995 - Republicans continue to dismantle or reverse sixty years of U.S. domestic social policy. To accomplish the goal of a balanced budget and tax cuts within seven years, scores of programs enacted during administrations from Franklin Roosevelt's to Richard Nixon's are hobbled or entirely eliminated.
September 19, 1995 - The Senate votes eighty-seven to twelve to join the House in transferring control of basic welfare programs from Washington to the state capitals by repealing a section of the Social Security Act of 1935 that provided aid to dependent children of indigent families. Ending the federal welfare system sets the stage for a final battle over Medicare and Medicaid. Once again, television airwaves are flooded with commercials either extolling the correctness of the Republican approach or warning of its grave dangers. But this time the roles are reversed. Now it is the Republicans who complain about scare tactics and charge their opponents with trying to frighten the elderly and keep them from understanding how the GOP plan will reform and save Medicare.
September 21, 1995 - Sam Gibbons of Florida erupts in a rage during a committee meeting now led by Republicans. Gibbons is reacting to yet another Republican delay in making public details of their Medicare plan. He and other Democrats complain that Republicans intend to force a vote on their plan -- still not fully disclosed--after just a Single day of hearings the following week.
End of September 1995 - One year after House Republicans signed their Contract With America, Congress has failed to pass eleven of thirteen appropriations bills to keep the federal government operating, and half of the Contract's provisions are stalled in the Senate by opposition or inaction. In Washington, growing disgust and disillusionment with the way The System is working -- and its polarization, bitterness, and extremism -- prompt leading Democrat Bill Bradley of New Jersey to announce he is leaving the Senate. He does so, he says, because he believes The System is "broken." His departure is part of a record exodus of retiring senators.
October 18, 1995 - Republican Medicare and Medicaid plans pass the House on an almost strictly party-line vote. Action in the Senate follows within a few days. The President promises to veto the bill -- and does so, knowing he will not be overridden.
Mid-November 1995 - Major parts of the government shut down after a temporary extension of funding expires with Congress and the President locked in bitter dispute over a budget agreement.
Mid-December 1995 - The latest temporary spending bill deadline expires with Clinton and the Republican Congress still far from agreement on the budget and on health care. The second partial government Shutdown begins.
Early 1996 - Whitewater resurfaces with still more congressional hearings focused on Hillary Clinton's role in the land deals and the firing of White House Travel Office employees in the spring of 1993. Events reach a new level of vituperation when New York Times columnist William Safire calls the First Lady "a congenital liar" in his column, and the First Lady is subsequently compelled to appear before a grand jury in Washington. House Republicans even turn on Bob Dole and accuse him of "caving in" after he leads the Senate in passing a resolution to reopen the government while talks continue.