The Last Senate Debate on Health Reform

With the Senate about to embark on a debate regarding health care legislation, it’s important to recall the last time the upper chamber considered health “reform.”  Contrary to some press reports, the Senate DID in fact debate health care legislation in 1994 – a proposal was introduced by then-Majority Leader Mitchell as S. 2357, which the Senate considered in August of that year without the debate coming to a conclusion or final vote.

The CBO analysis of the Mitchell bill from 1994 is available online here.  CBO estimated that the bill would cover 95% of the population and leave 14 million individuals uninsured.  By comparison, CBO’s analysis of the Reid bill found that the bill would cover 94% of legal American residents, leaving 16 million uninsured.  In other words, the Reid bill would leave more uninsured in both percentage and absolute terms than George Mitchell’s 1994 bill – even before accounting for the fact that CBO’s models at that time did not exclude the impact of undocumented immigrants when calculating the number of remaining uninsured.

For these reasons, it’s particularly interesting to note the reaction from Democrats to the Mitchell bill.  Haynes Johnson and David Broder write in The System that President Clinton’s statement to the National Governors Association outlining Mitchell’s strategy to cover “somewhere in the ballpark of 95%” of Americans sparked “pandemonium” and “chaos.”  AARP’s John Rother called the strategy “f—ing unbelievable.”  Pete Stark said that “If there is a bill without universal coverage, I would leave and a lot of liberal members would say no.”  Jim McDermott noted that Clinton “just put in jeopardy all the single-payer votes.”  Remember, this bill that caused so much liberal angst covered MORE people in both absolute and relative terms than the Reid bill being considered today.

Finally, Lawrence O’Donnell, then the Chief of Staff to Finance Chairman Moynihan, discussed the impending Senate debate on MSNBC last Tuesday; his comments can be found here.  It’s worth highlighting O’Donnell’s suggestion that the Senate should spend three months debating amendments to the health care bill – which would put a vote on cloture and final passage no sooner than the President’s Day recess.  It will be interesting to see whether Leader Reid will follow the words of wisdom of a prominent fellow Democrat in the way the debate is structured…