Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell's formal death announcement for healthcare reform brought to a close, at least for this year, one of the most fractious episodes in modern politics. Some of the low points and other memorable moments:
Biggest miscalculation: The Clinton administration's decision to spend months writing a 1,362-page plan to present to Congress. Because Congress was certain to make wholesale changes in the plan anyway, administration officials could have saved time and maintained political momentum for reform by offering an outline and letting lawmakers fill in the specifics.
Best line: From Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, on why giving subsidies to small businesses was a bad idea. "I saw a poll that said more than half of small businesses wouldn't offer healthcare to their workers even if it cost them nothing. Giving them subsidies is like feeding dog biscuits to a pit bull."
Next-best line: From single-payer advocate Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) on when he knew he wasn't going to get universal coverage. "I'm a (Chicago) Cubs fan. When they throw out the first pitch on opening day, you know the Cubs are not going to win the World Series."
Most misused person: Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen. President Clinton took him from the Senate Finance Committee, where he would have been a key ally in healthcare reform, moved him to the Treasury Department and then failed to seek his counsel.
Greatest gap between what we see and what we hear: Charles Kahn III, executive vice president of the Health Insurance Association of America. Political experts said the HIAA's "Harry and Louise" television advertisements made viewers wary of the Clinton reform plan, and possibly all reform plans. Said Mr. Kahn, "From the get-go we were for reform."
Best way to aid the opposition: First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, for turning the HIAA's "Harry and Louise" from semi-obscure advertising characters to poster children for those who opposed the Clinton plan. She did so by repeatedly attacking insurers as "the industry that has brought us to the brink of bankruptcy."
Better late than never: The American Medical Association began running a television advertising campaign calling on Congress to pass healthcare reform about three weeks after it was apparent that healthcare reform was not likely to pass.
Best revisionist history: Ira Magaziner, the White House's chief healthcare policy adviser, said in a recent speech that the only thing the administration did wrong on healthcare reform was not keeping the press informed.
Cruelest blow from a friend: Just after the Clinton administration released its reform plan, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) called the financing a "fantasy."
Weakest pledge: Mr. Clinton's promise to veto any plan that did not include universal coverage.
Most ridiculous moment: At the height of the bickering between the White House and the Health Insurance Association of America, White House healthcare adviser Richard Celeste crashed an HIAA press briefing, then held forth with reporters just outside HIAA headquarters. The HIAA dispatched a maintenance man to break up the impromptu press conference. He said the meeting created a fire hazard.
Biggest flip-flop: Mr. Clinton on Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell's compromise plan. First, he said the Mitchell plan, which at best would result in only 95% of Americans being covered by health insurance, constituted universal coverage. After liberals balked, the White House reversed itself. Two weeks later, administration officials said they supported the Mitchell plan as universal coverage.
Second-biggest flip-flop: Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole of Kansas. First, the Republican Senate leader said he supported a plan that included an individual mandate. Then he introduced a plan that did not include any mandates. Then he didn't support his own plan because it was too ambitious.