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Health Care Reform Follows Tortuous Road to Dead End

d of policy specialists who had little feel for the political dimension of their work.

As the weaknesses of Clinton's plan became apparent, virtually every big interest group backed away. Doctors, hospitals and companies big and small all scrambled to protect their own interests, fighting it out over the details of the plan even if it meant losing their larger goals.

Congress itself proved to be a moving target. Last year, more than 20 Republican senators backed a bill that promised to achieve universal coverage by requiring people to buy it themselves if their employer did not. Among the co-sponsors was Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., who now supports significantly scaled-back legislation.

Clinton has repeatedly complained about Republican fickleness. But lawmakers also say the White House team had little feel for the intricacies of the congressional process, and a lousy sense of timing.

Perhaps none of these obstacles would have mattered had public support for a comprehensive overhaul of the health care system remained strong. But the more people learned about the cost of change, the less certain they were that they wanted to make it.