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October 19th, 2009
10:57 AM ET

Dems head for health care crackup?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/10/14/health.care/art.snowe.gi.jpg caption="Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican, says she hopes some bipartisanship can be restored."]

John Feehery
Special to CNN

I started on Capitol Hill in the fall of 1989 as an intern for House Minority Leader Bob Michel. Republicans had just elected a firebrand named Newt Gingrich to be their whip. Democrats had just replaced their speaker, Jim Wright, with Tom Foley. And George H. W. Bush was settling in to his first year as president.

It was that year when the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Dan Rostenkowski, became more widely known - not for his work on tax reform and not for the corruption scandal that would later land him in jail.

He became famous for being accosted by a pack of angry senior citizens furious with the Illinois congressman for his role in passing catastrophic health care reform into law. It was legislation that sought to protect senior citizens from the financial impact of catastrophic illness, but it also increased taxes on Medicare recipients.

Interestingly, the group that staged the protest against Rostenkowski was organized by Jan Schakowsky, who would later become a prominent liberal representative and is now of one of the principal proponents of the Obama health care plan.

This was in the days before YouTube and before the rise of the ubiquitous and rival cable networks Fox News and MSNBC. Still, the footage of Rostenkowski being hunted down by rabid octogenarians and fleeing in his big Cadillac while almost running them down left an indelible impression in the minds of the congressional leadership.

In November of 1989, the Congress did what it rarely does. It repealed a law it had passed just a year before. It was as if the law never existed. It was annulled.

There are many similarities between that catastrophic health care bill and the health care reform the Democrats are attempting to put together in Congress this year.

Like the catastrophic bill, the Democrats' health care bill is well-intentioned. It attempts to deal with a problem that needs solving. Long-term health care costs are a problem. A family shouldn't have to go broke taking care of elderly parents or grandparents. Similarly, we must do something about the high costs of insurance and the health care in general.

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Filed under: Democrats • Health Care • John Feehery • Republicans
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