President Clinton has nobody to blame but himself for Congress' failure to pass a comprehensive healthcare reform bill. The plan was a victim of his refusal to listen to experienced hands, and of the resultant damaging assault by commercial, professional and political interests.
His early miscalculation was appointing his wife to head the reform effort. Hillary Rodham Clinton is universally appreciated for her brainpower, energy and dedication, but she was a novice in health policy and federal lawmaking.
The first major move by the president and his wife was perhaps their biggest mistake-tabbing Ira Magaziner as senior adviser on healthcare reform. Instead of calling in any of the hundreds of seasoned leaders in health policymaking, the Clintons dug up a business-oriented consultant and a health policy virgin. In an effort to identify the problem and find answers, Mr. Magaziner formed a committee of 500, most of them politically acceptable to the Clintons.
The Magaziner committee worked in secrecy, although a handpicked group of reporters was regularly briefed and its members sent home to write stories about what ideas were bandied about. The plan was to test public reaction to various concepts. In most cases, negative reaction resulted in the scrapping of the idea. This variation of what once was called news management may have been clever public relations, but it began to arouse opponents of government action.
The committee's muddling also gave conservative groups, commercial insurers, the small-business lobby and other opponents the time to mobilize their members.
If the president had done some earlier research by consulting the battery of experts available to him rather than trying to find the lowest common political denominator, he might have been able to send Congress a much simpler plan.
Now it's likely the elections in November could set the stage for a renewed healthcare reform effort in 1995. It's time for the president to decide on a definitive, less complex action and try to sell the voting public on it.
Mr. Brazda is a Washington healthcare journalist.