By my calculation, the score in the "bash the other party over healthcare to win an election" bowl is now tied.
The Republicans won the first half decisively by attacking the Clinton healthcare reform plan. The 1,400-plus page Clinton family/Magaziner reform plan became a symbol of a wholesale government takeover of the most liberal sort, and Republicans captured control of both the House and Senate.
The Democrats came back strong in the second half. They gained seats in the House and retained the presidency on a platform that consisted mainly of attacking the Republicans as extremists who want to destroy Medicare.
So now we've come full circle. Talk of bipartisanship aside, it's already clear that GOP members of Congress will seek to make the White House pay for what they consider the Democrats' demagoguery (or in the Washington tradition of making up words, Medagoguery).
Sounding like a soldier mourning comrades lost in battle, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) all but vowed revenge for "Mediscare" in a recent speech to Republican contributors.
House Ways and Means health subcommittee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) was more direct. Thomas vowed that Republicans will not lift a finger on Medicare reform until the president delivers his own plan first.
Thomas said Republicans would await a "detailed" plan from the president and would scrutinize the plan to ensure it doesn't contain any of the items (like higher beneficiary payments) that Clinton criticized on the campaign trail.
Publicly, Thomas and Gingrich have been the first two Republicans to break the facade of bipartisanship. But privately, other Republicans also say they want to withhold their support for any Medicare reforms until Clinton has eaten his share of Medicrow (hey, making up new words is easy).
The tactic may be appealing, but governing by revenge doesn't help the Medicare Part A trust fund, which continues to hemorrhage at an ever-quickening rate.
Here is just a hint of the trouble the trust fund is in. In October, it lost nearly $3 billion. That is nearly twice as big a deficit as the trust fund suffered in the same month just one year earlier.
So what we're likely to end up with next year is a game of Medichicken. Everybody knows the loser in that game will be the one who shows his plan first because that plan will become cannon fodder.
By law Clinton must submit his budget first, and it likely will include some Medicare growth reductions. But remember, he submitted his plan first last year and it included no Medicare initiatives at all. A Medicare reform proposal was added to a later version of the budget after criticism of Clinton. At this point it seems unlikely the White House will submit a Medicare reform plan that meets Republican standards.
A debate is going on in the White House about whether to recycle much of last year's Medicare reform proposal in the coming year's budget, but with a reduced level of Medicare savings.
Last year's administration plan would have reduced projected Medicare spending by about $124 billion over a six-year period. HHS Secretary Donna Shalala said the new plan would include about $100 billion in savings.
GOP leaders dismissed the White House Medicare plan as too little, too late last year, a theme they already are sounding this year. There is little reason to believe they will like the plan any better warmed over.
Rep. Bill Archer (R-Texas), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a recent press conference that Republicans would seek Medicare savings in excess of the $124 billion in last year's White House plan. That puts them within reach of each other but does nothing to settle any of the policy differences that were unbridgeable last year.
Whether there is a budget deal next year probably depends on how Republicans react to Clinton's budget.
Will the GOP stand firm, not act and wait for Clinton to get serious while the Medicare trust fund continues to spiral downward (after all, the trust fund doesn't really go into receivership until after two more elections)? Or will congressional Republicans once again forge ahead with their own plan and risk being attacked as extremists?
If they choose to hold out, it may be a long, icy two years until the next election.
If they choose to act, it means they think they can strike a bargain with the White House and count on the administration to take Medicare off the table as an issue.
Handicapping what will happen would be foolhardy. But here are some factors to keep in mind as the debate unfolds next year:
Despite talk of bipartisanship, Republicans don't trust the White House. They have plenty of reasons to feel that way, given last year's budget battle, the welfare reform fight (where Clinton signed the bill and then vowed to change it) and the recent flip-flop on a balanced-budget amendment.
The Congressional Budget Office will release its new estimates of growth in Medicare and Medicaid spending in January. Most observers, including former CBO chief Robert Reischauer, think the CBO will make very modest reductions in its projections. But even a small decrease in the rate of growth will make it easier to reach the spending cuts needed to balance the budget.
Provider groups. Last time around, even the groups that supported the GOP plan in principle were not there when push came to shove. If Republicans and Democrats can find some common ground that providers can enthusiastically support, it will give them some much-needed political cover.
How these elements play out will go a long way toward determining whether the next election will again find the parties pulverizing each other over health issues.