1994 vs. 2008….Ezra Klein writes about the prospects for universal healthcare if a Democrat wins the presidency next year:

I’d like to believe, as Joe Klein does, that America’s corporations will make this the year that they finally support universal health reform. But I wouldn’t bet an extraordinary amount of money on the prospect. For instance: Though the NFIB [a small business lobby that was instrumental in defeating Bill Clinton’s healthcare plan in 1994 –ed.] has been making conciliatory noises, and even talking with Ron Wyden on occasion, they still came out in ferocious opposition to Schwarzenegger’s California reforms, which are not dissimilar to the models offered by the national Democrats….Any president walking into this counting on the support of the corporate community will get their lunch handed to them.

I agree. But that’s boring, so instead I’m going to play devil’s advocate. There really are a number of differences between 1994 and today that work in favor of getting business cooperation on a serious healthcare plan:

  • In 1994, the business community got sold on the idea that the HMO revolution might succeed in reining in healthcare costs, which meant there was no need for the feds to get involved. Obviously that didn’t happen, and no one in the business community now believes that there’s some quick fix on the horizon that will keep their healthcare liabilities from continuing to skyrocket. They’re much more open to a government solution on this score than they were 14 years ago.

  • The Clinton plan included mandates on small businesses. The current crop of Democratic plans don’t. When it comes to assuaging business concerns and producing healthcare plans they can live with, Democratic politicians have gotten much, much smarter over the past decade.

  • Public opinion has shifted too. The public was in favor of healthcare reform in 1994, but not overwhelmingly — and Harry & Louise were enough to turn them against the Clinton plan. Today, public opinion is far more strongly in favor of healthcare reform, and that’s a tailwind that even conservative politicians have to respect.

Now, having said that, I think (a) public opinion still isn’t where it needs to be, (b) the business community remains suspicious of big government healthcare plans for all the usual ideological reasons, and (c) movement conservatives haven’t budged an inch on healthcare. They view it, probably rightly, as a stalking horse for resurgent liberalism, and will oppose it every bit as furiously as they did in 1994.

Still, there are differences. The climate today for healthcare reform really is more hospitable than it’s been in a long time. It’s not 1994 forever.

UPDATE: Ezra takes issue with my point about public opinion. I don’t think polls adequately capture what’s really going on with broad-but-shallow issues like healthcare, but it’s still worthwhile to look at them as a baseline of sorts. And at least as far as the CBS/NYT polls can show us, discontent over the healthcare system is about the same today as it was in 1994.

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