In 1965, the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, Wilbur Mills, brought legislation establishing Medicare and Medicaid to the floor of the U.S. House. That was my first year in Congress, and I remember vividly the moment when Mills came to the Democratic caucus to explain his plans.
Many of us had been swept into office in the 1964 Democratic wave that accompanied Lyndon Johnson’s election, and we had an overwhelming majority in Congress. We could pass any bill we wanted. But Mills argued forcefully that we shouldn’t.
It was crucial, he said, that we get bipartisan support for the measure: Passing the law was one thing, but what really counted was its implementation. With bipartisan support, the odds were much higher that the highly controversial measure could be rolled out effectively.