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Re: The Lesson of Clinton


Rich, you make a very good point, and I think there’s another way in which the Democrats have learned the wrong lesson from the Hillarycare episode. The popular narrative of that fiasco in Washington circles is that Clinton’s big mistake was writing a whole complicated bill and then presenting it to Congress as a done deal to take it or leave it. This, the story goes, hurt the pride of some important members of Congress who didn’t want to be treated like incidental players and so turned against the bill out of spite.

But that doesn’t seem to be what really happened. Members of Congress as a general matter tend to be happy to have bills written by a president of the same party: It saves them a lot of work and usually makes negotiations simpler. The problem with Hillarycare was not that Hillary wrote it but that it was a gargantuan technocratic nightmare of a bill. It took on way too much at once rather than trying to deal with problems one at a time. After it failed, the White House and Congress successfully took a few incremental steps (like enacting the State Children’s Health Insurance Program), which didn’t involve reinventing huge swaths of the American economy in one fell swoop.

In learning lessons from the Clinton experience, the Obama team seems to have concluded that it’s a mistake for the White House to write legislation, but not that it’s a mistake to try to take on everything in health care all at once. So they have repeated what I think was the crucial error in Hillarycare, and (though this story is surely far from over) they now run the risk of repeating its consequences.


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