While it's too early to formally declare healthcare reform dead for 1994, it may not be premature to at least order the headstone. Here are the arguments for and against passage of healthcare reform this year.
Reasons to begin thinking about next year:
1.) No plan has the backing of a majority of senators. The plan introduced by Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine) has the support of liberals and could likely garner the support of most moderate Democrats. However, it has been attacked by more conservative Democrats and would get, at best, one Republican vote. The bipartisan "mainstream coalition" at its zenith had 20 members and could probably get no more than a few additional votes unless it is supported by Mr. Mitchell and Minority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.), which is becoming increasingly unlikely. The main Republican alternative, Mr. Dole's incremental plan, could get many of the Senate's 44 Republicans but has no Democratic support.
2.) Time. With less than 10 weeks left until the 1994 elections, House members and senators up for re-election want to get back to their states and districts to campaign. The longer Democratic leaders keep members in Washington, the more they risk losing seats in Congress, and the more cranky and irritable members become.
3.) The crime bill. The tougher-than-expected fight over the $30 billion crime bill has caused President Clinton to expend valuable political capital that otherwise would have been used to push healthcare reform. The fight also has taken time and energy away from the healthcare reform debate.
4.) Stepped-up lobbying, particularly by business, against the Mitchell plan and the bill introduced in the House by Majority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.). IBM and General Mills are among the large companies that have called on their employees to write or call Congress opposing both plans.
5.) President Clinton's pledge to veto any plan that did not include universal coverage severely limited his negotiating room. At some point, if the scope of the plans before Congress continues to shrink, they become more of a problem for the White House than no bill passing at all.
6.) Polls showing people aren't convinced Congress should act this year. As voters become more worried that Congress may pass bad healthcare reform rather than no healthcare reform, momentum to pull the plug on the debate will increase.
7.) Mr. Dole is making overtures for a presidential run in 1996. His courting of the conservative wing of the Republican party has, in many observers' views, led him to oppose measures he might otherwise be willing to consider.
Reasons for optimism:
1.) Members are still negotiating. While there has been little movement of late, some movement is better than none.
2.) The Democrats need an election boost. Many observers believe that the Democratic leadership in Congress will settle for a limited reform bill to ensure that they have some victory, no matter how small, to campaign on.
3.) Pressure from home. Members pushing for a healthcare reform plan say they receive many more calls from constituents who want Congress to act this year, while the voters represented by members who oppose reform overwhelmingly want Congress to wait until next year.
4.) Mr. Mitchell's announced retirement. This session of Congress will be the last for Mr. Mitchell, and other senators say he desperately wants to leave on a high note.
5.) Pledges made. Democrats have pledged to labor and other core constituencies that they would do all they could to pass healthcare reform. However, it may be too late for the sweeping reforms most of these groups support.