Why America got Obamacare, not Nixoncare

The story of Obamacare starts, not with Romneycare or Billarycare, but with President Nixon and Senator Kennedy, Kennedy being the constant throughout.

In 1964, Ted Kennedy, then about 32, amazingly survived the crash of the plane in the photo below. (An aide died.) Later, he would explain that, during his recovery, he realized how incredibly fortunate he was to be able to afford any medical care he needed. As a result, helping others access medicare care became "the cause of my life," as he put it. And, he did indeed get a lot of great health care legislation passed over his long Senate career.

President Nixon proposed a national health care plan with an employer mandate and no individual mandate. As Ted Kennedy admitted many years later, Kennedy blocked Nixon's plan. Kennedy said he wanted a Democratic President to pass a national health care plan. When confessing this ruefully, not long before he died, Kennedy also said that he had regretted his action almost immediately and tried to get Nixon to revive his (Nixon's) bill, but then...Watergate. I am not sure that I believe this part of the story. Having Democratic President Ted Kennedy sign the first national health care bill may have been Ted Kennedy's actual goal.

Among other things, Kennedy never attempted to introduce and pass a national health care bill after Watergate. Moreover, Jimmy Carter, who was a Democratic President and could have fulfilled Teddy's stated desire, said that Ted Kennedy had also blocked his (Carter's health plan) when Carter had a Democratic majority in both the House and Senate and the country was less polarized. And, as we all know, Kennedy also mounted a primary challenge to Carter. Kennedy's challenge to Carter failed, as did Carter's re-election bid; and a health care national plan was stalled again. Pity, because I think Kennedy's plan in those days would have been a bold one and would have had a chance of passing.

Meanwhile, the employer mandate in Nixon's plan had alarmed a group of conservatives at Jackson Hole, WY. (They may have been a version of a think tank or a more informal group: I don't know.) The Jackson Hole conservatives came up with a plan with an individual mandate. The Heritage Foundation got behind the plan of the Jackson Hole conservatives, not because conservatives especially wanted a national health care plan, but because conservatives wanted to forestall another Nixonian plan.

Yadda, yadda, the great triangulators, Bill and Hillary, went with the Heritage Foundation Plan (Bill, not Hillary, was the mastermind, at least, according to wikipedia). Although some conservatives, former Democrat Rick Perry, for one, praised the Clintons at the time, the Heritage Foundation itself attacked Billarycare! Democrats were not thrilled with it, either, nor with the way that the Clintons had handled it. Billarycare not only failed, but was a debacle all the way around. (For more info about the debacle, please read the wikipedia article.)

To help fill the gap left by failure of Billarycare to pass, Kennedy, with help from Orrin Hatch, proposed and passed SCHIP. Then first Lady Hillary took a great deal of credit for SCHIP (including during her 2008 and 2016 runs for POTUS), which, candidly, seems implausible. Kennedy said Hillary had championed it on Pennsylvania Avenue or some such.

The person on Pennsylvania Avenue whom she could have influenced most, her husband, had already tried to pass a more ambitious bill than SCHIP and was unlikely to oppose SCHIP. Moreover, Kennedy was great at getting legislation passed through whomever it needed to pass through. Hillary, on the other hand, failed in that endeavor, both as First Lady Clinton promoting Billarycare and as Senator Clinton, whose seemed to excel mostly at writing bills destined to die in committee. However, when asked about her role after he had endorsed Obama in 2008, Kennedy said, "Facts are stubborn things," echoing President John Adams (the elder). http://caucus99percent.com/content/which-hillary-potus-ads-have-you-been...

The next notable step in the saga of a national health care plan was Romneycare. While Romney was Governor of Massachusetts, a legislature that was well over 90% Democratic overrode his vetoes at an average rate of over 300 per year. With one eye, maybe two or three, on a Presidential run, Romney likely believed he needed something to use in his run for President besides having "saved the (Utah winter) Olympics."

Romney wanted the Massachusetts legislature to pass a state version of HeritageFoundationcare/ Billarycare. Kennedy, whom Romney had challenged for a Senate seat in the 1990s, may have been feeling guilty about having blocked the health plans of Nixon and Carter. In any event, Kennedy put his shoulder to Romney's wheel, negotiating with both sides and threatening loss of federal funds. Yadda, yadda, thanks to Ted Kennedy, the Massachusetts legislature did ultimately pass a health care bill that signed.

Obama ran for President, in part, on a strong public option and no individual mandate, but ended up passing the opposite, claiming it was like RomneyCare--which was like BillaryCare--which was like HeritageFoundationCare--which was worse for the 90% than NixonCare. (I don't know what CarterCare would have been like.) So, thanks to a basically decent and liberal man who called health care the "cause of my life," a national health care plan may have been delayed for decades and Americans may have ended up with a plan worse in several respects than Nixon's plan.

Like all of our historic figures, Kennedy was a mixture. Like many of them, he may have sometimes subordinated the best interests of Americans to his personal ambition and/or to party loyalty. However, I again emphasize that Kennedy was a basically decent man, who had been responsible throughout his career for much good health care legislation. http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/28/6/w1040.full And, as most of us recall, almost to the day he could no longer move at all, he was working on a draft health care bill of his own and traveling to Washington to vote, when his vote was needed, including for Medicare. http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/TedKennedy/story?id=8415706

Of course, Obama had benefited greatly from Kennedy's primary endorsement and campaigning, especially among Mexican Americans, who had remained fond of the Kennedys since the days of RFK and labor activist Cesar Chavez. But, Obama and a Democratic Congress did not pass Kennedy's bill, which would have helped Americans more than Obamacare.

Could Kennedy have gotten his own 2009 version of health care if he lived, or were the Nixon-Carter moments, when a good bill might have passed, simply over by that time? Everyone has an opinion. Mine is that the window closed after the Billarycare debacle.


Note the weight difference evident in the face between the second photo above and this one, even accounting for the position of Kennedy's head in the earlier photo.


Brace visible at the neck


Campaigning with Obama, though unable to stand for long and seeming to need to hold up his left arm, which appears smaller than his right

I tried to find a pic of Kennedy, using his cane to head to his Senate office during his last months of life to work on his version of a health care bill, grinning from ear to ear. I remember seeing it at the time, but could not find it for this post.

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Lookout's picture

ted.jpg

It is the only one I could find with a cane.

I heard him say he regretted fighting Nixon's plan - it would have been better than what we have now for sure!

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“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

it's a good one. In the pic I saw in 2009, he was inside the Capitol Building with a briefcase, looking very excited and happy (as I recall it) and the caption said he was on his way to his office to work on his health care plan.

As far as the regret, I'm guessing you heard that not many years before he died at age 77, as I did. However, as the blog entry said:

. When confessing this ruefully, not long before he died, Kennedy also said that he had regretted his action almost immediately and tried to get Nixon to revive his (Nixon's) bill, but then...Watergate. I am not sure that I believe this part of the story.

Having President Ted Kennedy sign the first national health care bill may have been Ted Kennedy's actual goal. Among other things, Kennedy never attempted to introduce and pass a national health care bill after Watergate. Moreover, Jimmy Carter, who happened to have been a Democratic President and could have fulfilled Teddy's stated desire, said that Ted Kennedy had also blocked Carter's health plan (when Carter had a Democratic majority in both the House and Senate). And, as we all know, Kennedy also mounted a primary challenge to Carter. Kennedy's challenge to Carter failed, as did Carter's re-election bid; and a health care national plan was stalled again. Pity, because I think Kennedy's plan in those days would have been a bold one and would have had a chance of passing.

Typically, when people regret something, they take remedial action if they possibly can. There was a lot of time between Nixon and Billarycare and, during that time, two Presidents wanted a plan. And, regret or not, that still left Americans without any national health plan at all for decades. I try not to get into the hearts and heads of politicians, but to look at what they did or failed to do and how that affected the 90%.

Mind you, I admire Ted Kennedy a great deal. But this was a bad thing for most Americans for a long time, and for selfish reasons. And it probably would have been a better plan than Obamacare, so the damage continues. I believe that he did regret it when in his 70s and looking back on his life, but I can't give him a pass on this particular thing because of that. I do still admire him because of the big picture of his life, including being a father figure to the children of his two assassinated brothers and all the good bills he did get passed and all the other good things he did. Rose Kennedy's sons and daughters were something else. I suspect a good deal of that had to do with her.

Edited to change "state" to "stated."

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Nixon was to the Left of today's Democratic Party with Nixoncare and Negative Income Tax.

Who would have thought in 1970 that Nixon would stand tall against a corrupt Democratic Party. Who would have thought that today's Democrats would be more welded to Wall Street than yesterday's Republicans?

Edited for grammar.

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We are so screwed.

he would have wanted to appear that way during his first term. A lot of Democrats praise Ike and Nixon for being left. They forget a couple of things. Before Ike, who was a huge war hero, Democrats had occupied the White House for 20 consecutive years and JFK followed Ike. Congress had been solidly Democratic, too. If a Republican wanted to be President, at that time, it looked very much like seeming like a New Deal Democrat was the way to go. Especially if he wanted a second term. Ike loved big business and "defense," despite his MIC speech. Nixon was a supporter of Joe McCarthy.

But, I'd have to write a whole essay to be more convincing. Maybe I will at some point, but I have too much on my plate right now.

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LeChienHarry's picture

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You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again you did not know. ~ William Wiberforce

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Steven D's picture

Teddy.

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"You can't just leave those who created the problem in charge of the solution."---Tyree Scott

I say this, not to excuse it, but because more than one thing can be true: Growing up in that family had to have brought with it incredible pressure, especially for the males.

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earthling1's picture

@HenryAWallace What a life having to look over your shoulder constantly. His behavior re: Nixoncare could very well have been influenced by what happened to his brothers. We may never know.
" Nice big extended family ya got there, shame if something yada yada".
Still wondering 'bout that cut above Sanders eye.
CT? Anything possible today. Whoda thunk Trump?
IMHO

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After six years, still getting robo-calls from Marriot Hotels.
They're like herpes.

@earthling1

especially when he challenged Carter. He could easily have dropped out of the public eye, as has his son. However, he never did. Supposedly, Rose had emphasized public service and the lesson stuck!

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You called it like it was: a missed opportunity.

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"The justness of individual land right is not justifiable to those to whom the land by right of first claim collectively belonged"

The research was done long ago. In truth, it was not even so much research as it was (1) stumbling on a Forbes Magazine article about the Nixon plan and the Jackson Hole crowd, (2) seeing a video of Ted Kennedy on TV, talking about having blocked Nixon's plan and why; and (3) after Kennedy passed, stumbling across an article in which Carter said Kennedy had blocked his (Carter's) plan. I am not even sure of the order in which those three things happened, but I put those three things together with the fact that Kennedy had tried to primary Carter. And Kennedy's long (and good) history of health care bills.

I am blessed or cursed with what I call a pack rat mind. I rather suspect you know the feeling.

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I think that Ted Kennedy believed that a "Medicare For All" type of National plan was really achievable.

After all, it was his own brother, President JFK, who used the bully pulpit in a passionate way to rally public support and lay the ground work for the Medicare Plan that exists today (which was not formally passed until after his brutal assassination - and Lyndon Johnson then got the 'credit' for it), and this legislation became a reality under the watchful eye of Teddy.

So Ted stuck to his guns during the Nixon years. But the real mystery to me is why did Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter diverge so greatly, and become almost like enemies in the late 1970s. I believe it was because Carter was not willing to really fight for broad Health Care reform, and had other battles he was fighting with Congress (SALT II?).

But if Ted Kennedy really wanted to be President, his chances of doing so would have been far greater and virtually assured had he run in year 1984 -- rather than in 1980 and have to face the long odds of climbing on top of the incumbent U.S. President that already headed the Democratic Party. But he ran then in 1980, primarily to embarrass or take down Carter ... more so than any regard for his personal ambition (and he never tried to make a run after that).

As for Obama, he was never serious at all about the 'public option' or any Health Care reform. This, just like his phony 'renegotiate' NAFTA talk cynically made during some battleground states just to trick the public. Obama was always a "don't rock the boat", "play it safe", Corporatist and creature of the puppeteers that financed and created him (Wall Street, CIA, big banks). After all, Obama was practically invented overnight in 2004. Merely a totally unknown, junior state senator was magically given a major prime time TV slot during John Kerry's 2004 nomination speech. And then he was instantly publically coronated by the entire National Mainstream Media as the 'next President' and treated like a Rock star (with no accomplishments to justify it).

The best voice on Health Care today is Bernie Sanders ... who of course was blocked by the DNC and by Krooked-Hellery and her minions from getting the nomination that he deserved. In the words of Hellery Kinton: "Medicare For All will never happen". She was never, at any time, a true reformer. Her plan in 1993 was designed in secrecy, behind closed doors, and despised by both Democrats (like Kennedy) and Republicans. It was intended incompetence and corruption on wheels - probably to kill the large popular movement going on at that time behind real reform.

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especially politicians. For one thing I'm not always 100% sure I know all my own motives, let alone those of someone I do not know very well.

That said, near the end of his life,Ted Kennedy did say that he regretted having blocked Nixon. He (Ted) also said that he had blocked Nixon because he (Ted) had wanted a Democratic President to pass America's first national health care bill. Ted never said that he blocked Nixon because he (Teddy) wanted a better health plan than Nixon wanted, but Nixon refused to go along. What Ted did say, IMO, spoke much more poorly of him than would have saying he (Ted) had opposed Nixon because Nixon's bill was not good enough.

I cannot imagine why Ted Kennedy would, near the end of his life, purport to be making a confession about his distant past that no one asked him to make, but then told a lie instead-and, to boot, a lie that makes him seem much worse than saying he blocked Nixon because he (Ted) didn't think Nixon's plan was good enough. So, even though I try not to get into motives, I apologize, but your theory about the reasons for blocking Nixon just doesn't seem plausible to me. Simply because what he said was far more unflattering to him than your theory, I think he made a truthful confession.

As for running against Carter just to embarrass Carter, I think Ted Kennedy was far too loyal a Democrat to have done that. Besides that, if embarrassing Carter were Ted's goal, there are other ways that would have been far easier and far more effective to embarrass Carter than challenging a fellow Democrat who was an incumbent POTUS in a Presidential primary. I think Kennedy ran because (1) Ted thought that Carter, if the nominee, would lose the general, where he (Teddy) might win it and (2) because Ted wanted to be President.

In any case, I am sorry that Kennedy did not win that primary. I think there was still enough Kennedy love, assassination guilt, etc. in American in 1980 that Kennedy charisma may have defeated Reagan. Carter/Mondale could not. Then again, Chappaquiddick may have been too much to overcome. A guick google seems to confirm feelings/beliefs I've long had about that primary. For example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Kennedy#1980_presidential_campaign

I can think of many possible reasons why a candidate, having run for POTUS and lost once, would not have run again. Many do not. For one thing, Chappaquiddick was never going away, just as Muskie's crying was never going away and neither were Gary Hart's "adventures." I can also think of many possible reasons why any brother of JFK and RFK would not have tried twice for POTUS. Many people close to the Kennedy family were terrified that Ted had run for President at all.

I know that Rose Kennedy was one tough cookie--and very public service oriented--but, in her shoes, I'd have been on my hands and knees to Ted daily to get him not to run. In fact, I would have begged him to drop out of public life entirely. Also, he was the only surviving male Kennedy to "father" his brothers' kids (a responsibility he took seriously) and to step into Joe's shoes as patriarch of the family. When Ted died, Caroline said the cousins probably would not get together much any more, with Ted gone, no one would be hosting those events.

BTW, the considerations of Medicare for those on OASDI are very different from considerations regarding Medicare for All. It's perfectly plausible for a politician to see his or her way clear to supporting the one, but not the other--and, in fact, many politicians did support the one, but not the other. So, I don't conclude anything at all, one way or the other, about JFK's desire for Medicare for the elderly, the disabled and the "widows and orphans." Also, I don't assume Ted agreed with JFK in every particular.

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