National Health Care?

Andrew Wang

Do you practice what you preach? Evidently President Carter could not. His term as president was manifest of broken promises. He boldly promised during his campaign to curb unemployment and inflation which rightfully cost him his re-election – all of which he duly failed to fulfill. Vowing explicitly to reduce unemployment to three percent in 1980, cut the inflation rate, balance the budget, and reform the tax structure, Carter let down those who supported him in the 1976 election. Despite countless feeble and half-hearted endeavors, the unemployment rate remained an unholy seven and one-half percent during three of his four years. Inflation was another sector that Carter displayed his incompetency, allowing the inflation rate to skyrocket to 18.2% for one month. In fact, he failed to satisfy the American people on about half of his campaign pledges. As if not to disappoint the American people enough, he delayed his proposals for a tax reform until 1978. Only few pieces of legislation were passed through Congress, most of them did not even make it. [1] Should a president that once boasted of his honestly be able to get away with such despicability? Let us not forget his once famous now infamous promise: “I’ll never tell a lie.”

As the problems of inflation and unemployment were all major and should have been addressed by Carter, he also failed to establish a national health care program which would encompass cost controls on hospitals. One again, he failed to deliver to the American people. The health care program that eventually passed in 1979 was not nearly as extensive as the proposal by Senator Edward Kennedy.[1] Even so Carter’s program, like his tax cuts proposals, went nowhere in Congress. This is even after he emphasized that every American had the right to pursue health during the 1976 democratic presidential nomination speech to the National Press Club. It is on record that he claimed that American’s “long range goals are in health care.” [2] If the President of the United States cannot secure such an important right, then who can? In fact, he criticized the idea that the quality of health care in America depended significantly on one’s economic status. [2] Even garnered with substantial support from the United Automobile Workers (UAW), Carter failed to establish comprehensive coverage of hospital and physician’s care. It was an undisputed matter; he had the support of countless religious and charitable groups, including Congress. [3] However, while focusing on the creation of such a comprehensive solution, he refused to negotiate its content. He remained as stagnant as the country – unwilling to bend when the country called for it. There was a window of opportunity for Carter to seize and pass the much anticipated bill, yet he did not take the bait. Just like President Clinton, Carter forgone the honeymoon period with Congress. Finbow concluded that “by delaying, Carter squandered the goodwill of the honeymoon period and reduced the political and fiscal feasibility of the program” [4] There have been three proposed reasons for the failures of such a national health care system. The first of which is the impending threat that it may detriment the federal budget. The second reason turns to more of the existing national mood throughout the 70s, which characterized by wants for a smaller government. This was caused mainly through the bitter aftertaste that Nixon had left through his Watergate scandal, and also the Vietnam War. The people cried out for change, which unfortunately Carter did not deliver. And the third, which Carter potentially could have solved, was the inability to settle on one proposal, as said earlier – Carter did not look to compromise. [5]

Although his main campaign speech seemed to focus on his status as a Washington outsider, Carter proved his incompetency in office quickly. His campaign and his promises all allude to solving the issue of corruption in Washington, yet his “unwillingness to compromise or share credit with Congress proved disastrous to health care and other initiatives.” [4] Likewise, he refused to cooperate with Congress. In fact, it almost seemed that he was trying to work against the system. Unequivocally, it was his inability to influence Congress that ultimately led to the bill never being passed.

If anybody can keep a grudge, it would have to be Carter. In his 2010 published memoir White House Diary, he derides the late Ted Kennedy and his alleged efforts in killing the national health care reform bill. He writes “Kennedy continuing his irresponsible and abusive attitude, immediately condemned our health plan. He couldn’t get five votes for his plan.” [6] His tirade continued when he was interviewed, and claimed that “the fact is that we would have had comprehensive health care now, had it not been for Ted Kennedy’s deliberately blocking the legislation that I proposed in 1978 or ’79.” It is downright ridiculous how Carter can be throwing around these allegations now, years after his presidency and also when he shares a significant portion of the blame. He cannot begrudge Kennedy anymore than he can himself. Carter’s justification for Kennedy’s opposition towards his bill was plainly that he did not want to see him have major success. [6] A blatant excuse for a poor job in office, Carter in no way can vouch that he was not responsible for the failures of the health care bill, not to include his empty campaign promises.

[1] The Campaign Promises of Jimmy Carter: Accomplishments and Failures

Michael G. Krukones Presidential Studies Quarterly , Vol. 15, No. 1, Inaugurating the President (Winter, 1985), pp. 136-144 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress Article Stable URL:

[2] “Address by Jimmy Carter Announcing his Candidacy for the 1976 Democratic Presidential Nomination to the

National Press Club.”

[3] Enthoven, Alain C. “How Interested Groups Have Responded to a Proposal for Economic Competition in Health

Services.” The American Economic Review. Vol. 70, No. 2, pp. 142-148.

[4] Finbow, Robert. “Presidential Leadership or Structural Constraints? The Failure of President Carter’s Health

Insurance Proposals.”

[5] Kingdon, John W.. Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies. New Yokr: Longman, 2003. [6] Carter, Jimmy. “White House Diary” September, 2010.


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