Former President BILL CLINTON and his wife, now Sen. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-N.Y.), came to Washington in 1993 with a commitment to reform the healthcare system and extend health-insurance coverage to all Americans.
But the failure of comprehensive healthcare reform in 1994 nearly cost Clinton his career. Democrats lost their majority in Congress in 1994, and Clinton appeared to be in a tailspin for the 1996 elections.
Then Clinton the healthcare policy wonk became Clinton the healthcare politician, using healthcare to shame Congress so that it didn't cut prized liberal programs and fund new entitlements.
Few politicians have used healthcare as effectively to win political battles as Clinton did. A victory of sorts came during the 1995 government shutdown over Republican legislation to balance the federal budget in seven years partly by slicing hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicare and Medicaid spending growth, education and the environment. Clinton so often used the mantra "Medicare, Medicaid, education and the environment" to cite his opposition to the bill that White House advisers began referring to it as "M-squared, E-squared."
Two years later, he agreed with GOP leaders to a balanced-budget package. But in exchange for Medicare and Medicaid spending caps, Clinton and his allies in Congress secured $24 billion over five years to fund state children's health insurance programs. Not satisfied, he later proposed coverage expansions to workers between jobs and retirees not old enough to qualify for Medicare. He also forged an ambitious plan to add a Medicare drug benefit.
The healthcare reform issue was the only high-visibility healthcare role for the first lady. But her election to the Senate and appointment to the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee foretells of future activism on healthcare.