Healthcare reform, one of the hottest issues of the 1992 elections, this year will take a back seat to other issues in the November congressional elections.
For some Washington watchers, this suggests that in 1995, Congress will devote more effort to reducing the federal deficit than on reforming the healthcare system.
"It is incredible how quickly (healthcare reform) has receded. I don't know of any races where healthcare is much of an issue," said Democratic campaign consultant Peter Harris. "The American people got to a place where they were saying, `Don't bother us with this,' about two months before Congress did."
Around the country, both Democrats and Republicans say that the inability to pass a reform plan, combined with the inherent complexity of the issue, has confused voters. The political fog is so thick that neither side can claim it is the party of healthcare reform.
All 435 seats in the House and about a third of the 100 Senate seats are up for election this fall.
In nearly every race, the same pattern has emerged. Demo- crats have been reticent to bring up healthcare reform for two reasons: They don't want to be linked to the unpopular Clinton plan, and they don't want to be in the position of explaining why a Democratic-controlled Congress was unable to deliver any plan.
For their part, Republicans also have been content not to debate healthcare reform because they do not want to stir up criticism that they were obstructionist.
"I don't think either party has a clear advantage on the issue. Consequently, I don't know of a single race where healthcare reform is a major issue," said Carl Volpe, a healthcare analyst with the National Governors' Association.
Traditionally, members of Congress return to work after elections and concentrate on issues that were at the forefront during the campaign. That has provider groups and reform advocates even more concerned that 1995 will be devoted more to deficit reduction and entitlement caps than to healthcare reform.
"It doesn't really surprise me that healthcare reform isn't an issue in the elections-it is hard to focus on healthcare reform now," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who is not running for re-election this year. "I'm disappointed but not distressed. It is going to make our job harder next year, though."
In Pennsylvania, where Democratic Sen. Harris Wofford's 1991 election victory put healthcare reform in the spotlight, Mr. Wofford has been labeled as "ineffective" for not delivering on his promise of healthcare reform by his Republican challenger, Rep. Rick Santorum. Mr. Wofford, who was elected to fill an unexpired term, must run again this year. Since Congress pulled the plug on healthcare reform, Mr. Wofford has not run any healthcare reform ads. According to Mr. Harris, the political consultant, both sides seem willing to skirt the issue.
In Tennessee, Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper, whose alternative managed competition plan was a constant thorn in the Clinton administration's side, has been fending off attacks by his Republican opponent, lawyer and movie actor Fred Thompson. Mr. Thompson has used a phrase coined by Mr. Cooper for his plan-"Clinton Lite"-to link Mr. Cooper to President Clinton. That has forced Mr. Cooper to spend valuable campaign time trying to explain the differences between his bill and the unpopular Clinton plan.