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.