Clinton ally urges 'burial' of health reform this year

September 21, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- One of President Clinton's most powerful congressional allies called upon him yesterday to abandon the health care reform effort for the year, saying it is time to give it "a decent burial."

The appeal by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, which was made in a letter to the president, marked the first time that one of the stalwarts of the campaign has acknowledged publicly what has been obvious for weeks -- that the end is near.

Said one dispirited lobbyist: "It's like family members all standing around a terminally ill person. No one wants to pull the plug."

Even as Mr. Dingell sent his letter, Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell of Maine, was continuing his efforts to produce drastically scaled-back legislation with a bipartisan clique of senators who call themselves the "Mainstream Group."

But Mr. Mitchell acknowledged that, with only about three weeks left in the legislative year, there are "very severe time constraints under which we are operating." And even Sen. John B. Breaux, a Louisiana Democrat and leader of the group, conceded that the bill, if it materializes, faces an uphill battle on the Senate floor.

Minority Leader Bob Dole of kansas scoffed at the group's efforts, saying: "They're still talking about health care? They never give up."

In the House, Speaker Thomas S. Foley, a Washington Democrat, cast further doubts on the prospects for even a modest step toward reform, saying that lack of bipartisan cooperation is "not encouraging."

Mr. Dingell's letter was particularly poignant, given his emotional investment in the issue. More than a half century ago, his father and predecessor in Congress helped write the first national health insurance legislation, and the younger Mr. Dingell has continued to introduce versions of that bill at the beginning of every Congress since he took his father's place in the mid-1950s.

Mr. Mitchell and his allies are trying to agree on a bill that would make changes in insurance practices, such as ending the practice of denying coverage to those who have poor health records, and would rely upon incentives and subsidies to cover up to 94 percent of the population, or about 9 percent more than have health insurance now.

However, consumer groups warn that it would also have the undesirable consequence of boosting health premiums overall. "The so-called Mainstream proposal would do more harm than good," said Gail Shearer of Consumers Union.

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