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Clinton Makes Case for Health Care Reform

Updated: 3:45 p.m.Former President Bill Clinton on Tuesday tried to impress upon Senate Democrats the importance of passing health care reform this year, exhorting them to remember the political consequences of failure.“The worst thing to do is nothing. That was my message to them,— Clinton told reporters after speaking the regularly scheduled Senate Democratic Conference lunch.Though Clinton apparently spent little time explicitly reminding Senators how his own failure to pass health care reform in 1994 led to that year’s GOP takeover of Congress, just having the former two-term president on hand was reminder enough for many. Instead of focusing on the past, many Senators said, Clinton outlined why he believes now is the time for Congress to pass a sweeping overhaul of the health care system.“He made the case, first and foremost, on policy, that this is critical to the country both on economic context as well as the health care context,— Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) said. “And secondly, he said, ‘Look, the reality is that, you know, failure to do this basically creates a failure on a critical policy issue and [that] has a significant political result.— Clinton said he invoked the lesson of Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), a leading fiscal conservative who opposed Clinton’s health care plan in 1994 but supported the measure that passed the House on Saturday.“He believed that it didn’t help him that he opposed it in ’93-94 because people hire our party to stand and deliver,— Clinton told reporters. “And, the opposition has already been generated. But if the [party’s base] gets disenchanted and the turnout goes down and then surveys don’t mean anything because you’re at a structural disadvantage. So I think it is good politics to pass this, and to pass it as soon as they can. But I think the most important thing is, it is the right thing for America.—While Senators said they were gratified to hear Clinton speak on the issue, wavering Democrats said they have not changed their position.Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) said he thought Clinton’s message was to get something passed and worry about perfecting it in the future, but he said he still plans to filibuster any bill that contains a public insurance option.“I actually thought that was an important message for people to hear,— Lieberman said. “Obviously, he talked about the importance of controlling health care cost increases and covering some people who don’t have insurance now … which are the two big goals.—Because Clinton didn’t get into the details of which policies the Senate should pursue, Lieberman said he came away believing that Clinton’s message was for liberals to abandon the public insurance option, which is currently slated to be in the bill that hits the Senate floor — possibly next week.“This is the Clinton genius, because we all hear what we want to hear,— Lieberman said. He acknowledged that liberals probably came away believing that centrists should drop their objections to the public option, but joked, “I think that I really understood what he was saying.—Similarly, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D–La.), who unlike Lieberman has not committed to supporting a motion to even begin debate on the bill, said she sees the imperative to pass health care reform, but she will not make up her mind on whether to vote for it until she sees an expected cost estimate of the Senate bill from the Congressional Budget Office. That score is expected by the end of this week.Other Senators, however, said they believe the former president’s talk may have swayed their colleagues.“I thought the president made a persuasive argument, that I support, that we need to get this done and we need to get it done as soon as possible,— freshman Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said. One source in the room said at least 47 of the 60 Members of the Democratic Conference attended the Clinton huddle — a robust turnout considering the Senate is not voting today and many Members wanted to attend a memorial service for soldiers killed in last week’s mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas.The president also talked about a wide range of issues before Congress, including climate change legislation and revamping the financial sector’s regulatory structure, Senators said.

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