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Seizing the Moment for Medicaid, 1964-1965

Congress often studies issues for months or years, waiting for the right moment to act. Wilbur Mills of Arkansas, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, was a master of such timing.

President Lyndon Johnson had proposed mandatory hospital insurance for the elderly. Mills, convinced that the House was not ready to approve the measure, maintained his “one-man veto,” not letting it come to a vote. “It’s a waste of time to bring out a bill if you can’t pass it,” Mills declared. Then, in 1964, Johnson’s landslide election victory helped bring a flood of new Democrats to the House. Mills now felt that an even more ambitious bill could succeed. Additional programs were added, including doctor visits and medical care for the needy.

“Like everyone else in the room, I was stunned. It was the most brilliant legislative move I’d seen in thirty years.”
-Health, Education, and Welfare Undersecretary Wilbur Cohen, 1966