It's big, it's bold and it's already being called the most lobbied bill in history.
Bill Clinton put his presidency on the line last night with a health care reform proposal comparable in its reach to Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty. That war ended in stalemate, and plenty of critics are hoping for an even worse fate for the Clinton health care reform. Considering the vested interests threatened by the plan and the sheer size of the health care industry, the chances that any final plan will closely resemble the initial proposal are slim.
But despite the obstacles ahead, the administration has good reasons for optimism. Any significant health care reform will be messy and complicated. With extended exposure the details tend to numb the brain. But credit the administration -- and especially Hillary Rodham Clinton -- with understanding that a majority of voters understand that the worst outcome will be no change at all. They also understand the appeal of the basic message of fairness, and that their success will hinge on keeping public attention focused on that great American ideal, even when the noisy clatter of furious lobbying confuses the issues.
We support the broad outlines of the Clinton plan, but we share reservations expressed by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and others about the financing of the plan (see article on the page opposite). Finances -- the cost of reform, versus the savings it will yield -- will rightly be a major component of the long debate ahead.
Unlike the intractable positions carved out early in the budget battle and in the NAFTA debate, health care reform has the benefit of statesmanlike intentions. Republicans and Democrats alike acknowledge the need for change, and the Clinton administration has been quick to point out the room it sees for compromise on many issues.
We welcome those debates, but we confess that other prospects fill us with dread. What is to be gained by another stand-off on abortion, other than derailing long-overdue reform? Those who protest that they should not have to pay for abortion ought to first acknowledge that they already pay for it now, in health insurance programs for government employees and even in the premiums they pay to private insurers.
The president outlined sound goals last night, while reminding the nation that his proposal is only the first step in a long journey. It is a journey that will have plenty of turns and twists down the road. But it is a journey the nation cannot refuse to take.