With President Obama pitching his version of health reform before a joint session of Congress, it recalls Bill Clinton's 1993 speech to Congress on the same topic. The media spin back then sounds eerily familiar: "reform" would end the "shame" of America being the only industrialized nation without universal coverage; a bigger role for government would cost nothing or even save money in the long run; and government bureaucrats are preferable to insurance companies.
After a year of media cheerleading, however, Congress finally scrapped Clinton's health care ideas. But the unpopularity of Clinton's government-based solutions contributed to the election of the first Republican-led House of Representatives in more than four decades. That's not to say history will play out the same way this time, but the media spin on behalf of ObamaCare certainly echoes the language of the 1990s. A review:
Giddy Over the Promise of Universal Coverage
"I think people now universally agree there should be an entitlement, a right to health care."
- Newsweek reporter Eleanor Clift on The McLaughlin Group, September 18, 1993.
"Some 37 million Americans, mainly the working poor, live without the basic peace of mind offered by health insurance. Every other industrial country provides something close to universal coverage and the ever-growing number of uninsured Americans has long been seen by medical experts as an index of national shame."
- New York Times reporter Erik Eckholm, November 14, 1993.
"Everyone is applauding, I think, in the health care community, the emphasis on universal access, because they know that unless they're going to let some people just die in the streets, it makes sense to get medical care early, when it's going to be more effective and less costly....the insurance companies are the focal point for the dynamics of denial that are part of our present for-profit system."
- ABC medical editor Dr. Tim Johnson, January 26, 1994 World News Tonight.
Reporter Tom Pettit: "Of all of the states, Hawaii has the most coverage, the closest thing to universal coverage, which the President has made the centerpiece of his health plan. Since 1974, twenty years ago, Hawaii has required employers to insure their workers and the state to cover the unemployed."
Governor John Waihee III: "We cover actually about 97, 98 percent of our population."
Pettit: "That is why Hawaii is a paradise, I guess?"
- NBC Nightly News, January 29, 1994.
"Yet lawmakers should preserve two of Clinton's key principles that are the best options among an array of unattractive choices. First is the so-called employer mandate....The second principle that should be preserved is universal coverage, or the guarantee that all Americans will have health insurance....With an aging population, rising health outlays will be with us forever. But universal coverage, delivered through managed health systems, is the best hope for spending those dollars more efficiently. Congress should swallow its aversion to confronting people with the upfront price - new taxes - and get moving toward this fundamental goal."
- U.S. News & World Report Senior Editor Susan Dentzer, February 14, 1994 issue.
"So at least from the physicians represented here, you get a 100 percent vote, including mine, for universal coverage."
- ABC reporter Dr. Tim Johnson to Hillary Clinton on Good Morning America, July 19, 1994.
"Those who argue for universal coverage very often make the point that the U.S. is practically alone in the industrialized world without it. Thirty million people without health insurance in the U.S. - compare that to Europe and Japan....In the great debate over universal coverage, a good many Americans believe it comes down to choices between haves and have-nots."
- Peter Jennings introducing July 26, 1994 "American Agenda" story on World News Tonight.
Don't Worry - It Won't Cost Anything
"White House officials said today the plan will require almost no new taxes. Most of the funding will come from employers who will be required to pay into a state system."
- CBS reporter Linda Douglass, September 1, 1993 Evening News.
"The Clinton plan is surprisingly persuasive in supporting the longtime claim of the Clintons, and their top health care strategist, Ira Magaziner, that reform can be almost entirely from savings, without broad-based new taxes and with enough left over to reduce the federal budget deficit."
- Time Washington Bureau Chief Dan Goodgame, September 20, 1993.
"But these [spending hikes] were subordinate to the administration's overriding objective: lowering the government's chronic deficit. Even Clinton's health-care legislation, often portrayed in humanitarian terms as a way of providing coverage for the uninsured and security for everyone else, became simply another tool to hold down projected federal shortfalls in the 1990s."
- Chicago Tribune reporter Michael Arndt, February 8, 1994. That day the Congressional Budget Office estimated Clinton's plan would increase the budget deficits by $74 billion over the next six years, instead of cutting them by $59 billion.
"Two thirds of the voters believe that Clinton has both raised their taxes and intends to raise them more with health care reform. While neither is true, Republicans have happily promoted both notions."
- U.S. News & World Report Assistant Managing Editor Gloria Borger, June 27, 1994.
"The White House was not so much driven in this by the desire to boost government power, as its most vehement ideological opponents have insisted, as it was by the need to raise new money to expand insurance coverage, without raising taxes."
- Boston Globe reporter Peter Gosselin, August 18, 1994 news story.
"Totally Free" Medicine
"The Clinton plan proposes totally free coverage, no co-payment for preventative measures....The single-payer plan, and the House Education and Labor Committee would add free family-planning services and contraceptives for poor women."
- ABC reporter Ann Compton, May 26, 1994 Good Morning America.
It's Really Rather Centrist
"Woven through the 1,300-page health plan is a liberal's passion to help the needy, a conservative's faith in free markets and a politician's focus on the middle class."
- Washington Post reporters Steven Pearlstein and Dana Priest, October 28, 1993.
"In fact, Clinton's prescription for change, more than any other politically viable reform proposal, would increase choice of doctors for most patients. 'Clinton's plan has, if anything, bent over backward to give people the maximum choice,' said Stanley Jones, a Sheperdstown, W. Va., analyst."
- Los Angeles Times reporter Edwin Chen May 29, 1994 news story.
The Clintons = Health Care Heroes
"You've been working hard already to introduce this plan to people, sell this plan to people. Are you having any fun with this or is it all just hard work? It looks to be very hard work....I don't know of anybody, friend or foe, who isn't impressed by your grasp of the details of this plan. I'm not surprised because you have been working on it so long and listened to so many people...."
- Dan Rather to Hillary Clinton, September 22, 1993 48 Hours health care special.
"I say the Clintons are almost heroes in my mind for finally facing up to the terrible problems we have with our current health care system and bringing it to the attention of the public....Most people, I think, will be better off."
- ABC Medical Editor Dr. Tim Johnson, September 24, 1993 20/20.
Government Better than Evil Insurance Companies
"The only thing government is better than are insurance companies and doctors having their own way with the health care system."
- Time White House reporter Margaret Carlson on CNN's Capital Gang, October 2, 1993.
"Hillary was smart to rip their heads off....After all, she's right substantively: the industry has 'brought us to the brink of bankruptcy,' it does 'like being able to exclude people from coverage, because the more they exclude, the more money they can make.' No other industrialized country puts up with useless paper shufflers taking such a large cut of their health budgets....And she's right tactically: if health-care reform is to live, the companies backing Harry and Louise must die. If 90 percent of those 1,500 insurers don't die - if someone lifts the DO NOT RESUSCITATE sign off them - then the entire reform contraption will collapse."
- Newsweek media critic Jonathan Alter on the insurance industry's "Harry and Louise" ads, November 15, 1993.
"Without health care reform there is nothing to stop insurance discrimination. And anyone can get sick. Anyone with a job can lose it - lose benefits; lose protection....Without reform, only the richest will be protected from a debilitating new kind of disease - a virulent strain of worry about their health care, their security; worry that is becoming epidemic."
- Beth Nissen's "American Agenda," July 29, 1994 World News Tonight.
Ignore Those Calling It "Socialized Medicine"
"The American Medical Association used the specter of 'socialized medicine' to defeat Harry S. Truman's plan for national health insurance in 1945. The same demagoguery still works, but that does not change the agreed facts...while Americans who can afford it get the best care in the world, the current system makes little sense in terms of economic competitiveness or social equity."
- New York Times editorial page editor and former Washington bureau chief and White House reporter Howell Raines, June 12, 1994.
"Congress is about to begin floor debates on whether all Americans have the right to cradle-to-grave medical coverage. Health insurance is part of the social safety net in every other major democracy. In the United States - a country founded on the idea of limited government - generations of health reformers have been thwarted by the opposition of powerful interests and a deep suspicion of 'socialized medicine.'"
- Knight-Ridder Washington reporter R.A. Zaldivar, August 7, 1994 Philadelphia Inquirer.
Oh, Never Mind
"It's official - health care reform legislation is dead for this year....The White House issued a statement saying President Clinton acknowledged the defeat but would fight on."
- Peter Jennings on ABC's World News Tonight, September 26, 1994.
-Rich Noyes is Research Director at the Media Research Center.