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A Look Back at 1994

On Aug. 29, 1994, Adam Clymer, Robert Pear and Robin Toner published 6,500-word look at where health-care reform went wrong. It makes for interesting reading, both due to the similarities and the differences.

In the similarities column, an economic crisis consumes the first months of the new president's term. The hope of bipartisan cooperation proves a mirage, and the early ambitions buckle as the poll numbers drift down. The process takes longer than expected and the Senate angers the House by trimming its legislative sails.

But in the differences column, there's no Ira Magaziner this year. The process was much faster and the president elected with a significantly larger majority. Where Sen. Robert Byrd Jr. rejected reconciliation outright in 1994, the Obama White House convinced Senate Democrats to include the option into the 2009 budget. Sen. Max Baucus isn't the most popular guy in town this year, but unlike his Finance Committee predecessor, Pat Moynihan, he actually wants to pass a bill, not simply teach an impertinent president a lesson.

And the proof is in the committee process: In 1994, the various committees produced radically different bills, and a few of them failed altogether. Conversely, four committee have produced virtually identical bills this year, and a fifth is likely to finish work on a more modest, but not structurally different, bill in the next few weeks.

Related: My retrospective on the 1994 effort.

By Ezra Klein  |  September 21, 2009; 10:03 AM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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I think you're the first person who's ever favorably compared Max Baucus to Pat Moynihan. That's hilarious.

The real difference between 1994 and now is that Bill Clinton refused to sign legislation that didn't meet his goals. President Obama, by contrast, will sign a bill celebrating National Enchilada Day if it's entitled the Health Care Reform Act of 2009.

Posted by: bmull | September 21, 2009 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Well, if you see the passing of any bill, no matter how bad, as a success, then Obama certainly is on the road to victory. But that really would be a soft bigotry of low expectations.

Posted by: Gray62 | September 21, 2009 10:28 AM | Report abuse

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