The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, February 05, 2005

JFK's big loss on medical care

Skimming through the Kennedy tapes volumes (piece earlier today) - the first one at least! - I come across a reference (p38a) to his
plan for medical assistance to the elderly [having] been defeated on July 21 1962 [?], by a slim margin in the Senate, despite an overwhelming Democratic majority in that body.

A little digging identifies the bill as the King-Anderson bill - HR 4222, the Medical Care for the Aged Bill. Kennedy went on TV on July 17 following the defeat, which was close:
A switch of two votes in the Senate would have provided, I believe, for its passage.

The Dem majority in the Senate in the 87th Congress: 64-36!

Why the big loss?

Peter Corning's History of Medicare fortunately has the goods - or what look very much like them.

Mostly, it seems, the bill was lost through procedural missteps or misfortune - you have to read the whole thing to get it (which I have yet to do - a skim suggests it has the ring of truth). But, Corning suggests part of the reason lay in
the deterioration of the political climate. In the weeks prior to the vote on Medicare, the administration had been buffeted by a number of setbacks. A confrontation with major steel-makers in April over price increases had ricocheted against the President, as did "Blue Monday" (a one-day stock-market panic on May 28th). The President had also suffered a string of congressional defeats on other administration proposals.

I sense a wealth of case-study goodness here.


A paper (?) from Morris Udall -
The "Battle of Madison Square Garden" between President Kennedy and the American Medical Association

And a lengthy paper, A Political History of Medicare and Prescription Drug Coverage by Oliver, Lee and Lipton, which takes the story from the enactment of Medicare in 1965 up to Bush's Medicare Act (PL 108-173) of beloved memory. Not.


I've now had a chance to read Corning's chapter which covers the King-Anderson bill [1], and it lives up to expectations. There's enough there to allow the reader to follow the progress of the legislation and the reasons for the parliamentary hi-jinks, without getting bogged down in inessentials.

On the Senate and (in particular) the House, the most basic information for this period is not available online: Wikipedia [2] gives full results for the Senate (eg 1960) but not for the House (ditto).

There is no online list (that I could find) of members of the US House in the 87th Congress. What the bejasus is up with that?!

So it's hard to figure the basis for the opposition to King-Anderson in 1962 in the House. The Cliff Notes version is that the Democrats had a very good year in 1958 - up 49 seats (with the increase including a surge of liberals) - pegged back by 20 seats in 1960.

Is it down to Boll Weevil Democrats? The Black's study (February 4 - p82a) says, of Confederate House Dems in the 1950s, that
with Rayburn in charge of the Democratic agenda, southern Democrats did not necessarily have to position themselves as conservatives on the much broader set of issues that separated majorities of Democrats from majorities of Republicans. Although only 15 percent of the Democrats voted with their national party 80 percent or more of the time, during the 1950s there were slightly more moderate Democrats (45 percent) than nominal or conservative Democrats (40 percent).

That said, it's not possible to second-guess the numbers. Even before considering the bill's fate on the floor, there was a 15-10 opposition in Ways and Means to overcome - with a Dem membership perhaps disproportionately Southern, and therefore disproportionately conservative. How much this opposition was an artefact of Chairman Mills' aversion to reporting out losing bills (note 1 below), rather than genuine opposition of committee members, I have no way of telling.

Zooming out, it had never occurred to me that Kennedy might be in the legislative fix he seems to have been in July 1962: one thinks - I thought - of FDR stymied post the court-packing and primary purge nonsenses [3], but not Kennedy (except perhaps on civil rights, where I don't recall he was really trying that hard at the time).

Perhaps the persistence of this conservative, mostly Southern block in Congress was part of the reason why the Dems decided to cut the South loose by embracing civil rights at a more than minimal level - the Democratic Southern Strategy. Or, at least, the prospect of the gradual elimination of the conservative Southern Dems was an item to be put in the upside column.

  1. By way of a sneaky trick for the unwary, the Medicare bills introduced in the 89th Congress (as HR 1 and S1) were also known as the King-Anderson bill. In the event, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Wilbur Mills, the last hold-out on the committee, drafted his own bill (HR 6675), which got through both houses with comparatively little trouble.

    The Kennedy tapes book (p285a of Vol 1) says Mills,

    [k]nown by many colleagues as "Ol' Never Miss Wilbur', ...had also developed a reputation for sinking legislation he deemed difficult to pass. Time magazine once described his predilection for this behavior by suggesting that he "is not just a mule who blocks innovations but a leader who hates to lose."
    How common a strategy has this been over the years, I wonder? I'm sure there's a study somewhere...

  2. So it's not reliable? Be thankful for the things they got!

  3. Which I hypothesise - solitarily! - to have been a deliberate attempt on Roosevelt's part to provide him with an excuse for failing to deal with Roosevelt Recession of 1937 and the failure of the New Deal as a whole to lift the Depression.

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