Miller Center

The Politics of Medicare

On the evening of May 18, 1964, President Johnson and his congressional relations liaison Larry O'Brien discussed the progress of the administration's Medicare bill, which would expand the Social Security system to include health care coverage for the elderly. O'Brien had just discussed the legislation with Wilbur Mills, the influential chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which controlled the legislation's fate in the House of Representatives. Representative Mills had fought Medicare legislation since it had first been proposed by President Kennedy in 1961, citing concerns about the consequences of increasing the Social Security payroll tax to fund the coverage, the costs that would be entailed in such a program, and the long-run fiscal soundness of the system. During the spring of 1964, however, Mills still claimed that his committee would report a package of amendments to Social Security that would include a Medicare program, but he had not yet supplied the details of such a plan. Much of the conversation between Johnson and O'Brien involved the question of whether Mills would attempt to bypass Medicare when he finally presented his plan. Mills' maneuvers would defeat the legislation in 1964, but would contribute significantly to its eventual passage in 1965.

Date:  May 18, 1964
Participants:  Lyndon Johnson, Larry O'Brien
Conversation Number:  WH6405.08-3472

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