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Critical Condition

NRO’s health-care blog.

Repeal: The Historical Record



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I care about policy, not politicians, but I’m not surprised to learn that it is much harder to repeal a bill that has been signed than it is to oppose one before passage. I thought that’s exactly why so many folks, both citizens and politicians, invested so much passion in trying to prevent President Obama from signing yesterday’s bill.  Did they fail? Hardly: Speaker Pelosi had hoped to have a bill on the president’s desk by the end of July 2009.

So, to see self-styled advocates of individual choice in health care, such as the Republican politicians discussed by Jeff Anderson, wobble within a day of the president’s signing ceremony, is remarkable. Maybe they just think repeal is impossible.

Maybe, but other “reforms” have had much larger, and bipartisan, legislative majorities. The Medicare & Medicaid amendments to the Social Security Act (1965) enjoyed over 70 percent majorities in each Congressional chamber; and the original Social Security Act (1935) also had majorities from both parties, in both chambers.

And both these Acts are, let’s face it, ancient history in political time. I lay before NRO’s readers, without comment, the record of a successful repeal: The 1989 scrubbing of the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act of 1988. A significant expansion of Medicare, H.R. 2470 was introduced on May 19, 1987. In June 1988, the House approved it by a massive majority of 328–72; and the Senate by a similar margin of 86–11. Pres. Ronald Reagan signed it on July 1, 1988.

Repeal was swift: H.R. 3607 was introduced in the House on Nov. 7, 1989 and passed both chambers by voice vote in November. The new president, Pres. George H. W. Bush, who obviously had succeeded, rather than defeated, President Reagan, signed the repeal on December 13.

— John R. Graham is director of Health Care Studies at the Pacific Research Institute.



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