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Democrats Clash Over Health Care

Living up to his pledge to cut back on presidential debates, Sen. Barack Obama skipped a panel on health care and economic issues last night in Iowa -- leaving the Democratic frontrunner, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, to draw fire from the rest of the field all by herself.

Just five of the invited contenders joined the AARP forum in Davenport. But sparks flew nonetheless. Sen. Joe Biden warned that Republicans will attack any new Clinton health care plan with a campaign similar to the "Harry and Louise" advertising blitz that helped sink her last effort in 1994.
"They're going to spend half a trillion this time," Biden (D-Del.) said.

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) took credit for prodding Clinton toward releasing the proposal for universal health care coverage that she unveiled on Monday. He boasted that he had announced his first.
"I'm very proud of the fact that six, seven months later, Sen. Clinton came out with a plan that is very similar to mine," Edwards said.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Gov. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.) also participated in the panel, which was broadcast on public television and moderated by newscaster Judy Woodruff.

Clinton (D-N.Y.) had steered the political agenda all week after releasing her health insurance proposal to require coverage for all individuals -- a scaled-back and less detailed program than the one she failed to pass more than 13 years ago. She largely avoided criticizing her rivals on the issue on Thursday night, embracing the similarities between the Democratic plans and accusing Republicans of falling short. And she indirectly rebutted Edwards? claim that she was following him on the issue.

"Well, been there, done that," she said of health care reform.

Referring to her earlier attempt, Clinton said: "It was kind of lonely back then -- I think it's tremendous that we have unanimity here. That was a lonely struggle all those year ago." But now, she said, universal health care "is the accepted set of convictions for the Democratic party. Compare that to the Republicans -- they don't have a clue, or a willingness to talk about or move toward what we are committed to."

Biden gave a particularly feisty performance. He needled Richardson for claiming he could run the country because he had run a relatively small state.
"He'd make a great secretary of state," Biden said of Richardson.

Then Biden -- who has been running in the single digits in national polls -- volunteered that some people haven't taken his candidacy seriously, either.

"I love Hillary Clinton," Biden chirped.

"I've been getting beat up because I'm always saying nice things about her -- they think I want to be her secretary of state," Biden said, then went on to criticize Clinton for failing to build a consensus on health care policy in the last decade.

"What's changed to make you think Hillary's going to be able to pull together 15 percent of Republicans?" Biden challenged.

With less than four months left until the first ballots are cast in the Democratic primary contest, the candidates are running at full throttle, beginning to challenge either other sharply -- and shed some of their timidity. Perhaps the boldest move was Obama's. By skipping the debate in order to fundraise and campaign elsewhere, he risked the ire of Iowa voters and particularly seniors, who typically make up most of the 100,000 or so caucusgoers in the state.

--Anne E. Kornblut

By Post Editor  |  September 21, 2007; 10:09 AM ET
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david | September 21, 2007 Did you watch the debate, or are you relying on the Post's description of the debate? If you didn't watch it, you can read the transcript or watch the video at Iowa Public televisions website. If you do that you will see in the same response where he did not say Richardson was unqualified, but rather that there is a difference between making a change in health care (or any area) in a state with a couple million people and a country of 300 million, he specifically did not say he couldn't accomplish his promises, he specifically said "they (referring to Clinton, Edwards and Richardson) may be able to do it" In that same response he questioned Hillary's claim that she could (or was best suited to) change the health care system, based on her failure in 93. He said "What's changed to make you think that Hillary is going to be able to pull together 15 % of the Republicans to join her?...But whats the record of being able to get folks in those red states to vote for this stuff? Folks think about it, there is no possibility of getting anyone of our plans unless you get 15 or 20 % of the Republican to join us, unless you're going to give us 100% Democrats."

Biden did criticize Clinton with the same force as he did Edwards and Richardson.
David you state:
"Are you afraid you won't be on her short list for VP?" obviously you aren't from Iowa or you would know that Senator Biden has stated unequivolically that he will not run as anyone's VP, and would not accept the position of Secretary of State. Richardson on the other hand has not only refused to say he won't accept the VP position, but has stated specifically that he is running for President, but if he is not the nominee he would accept the VP nomination. Sen. Biden and Edward's performed best. Biden was applauded after 64.3% of his responses, Edward's was applauded after 57% of his responses, Dodd was applauded after 41.2% of his responses, Richardson was applauded after 33.3% of his responses, and Clinton was applauded after only 31.25% of her responses. According to the IPTV transcript.

Posted by: sarar | September 22, 2007 12:52 PM | Report abuse

AARP made sure to exclude Kucinich from this debate.All the debaters support the insurance companies, the HMOs--all the middlemen in the healthcare debacle that is the present American system. How AARP, BlueCross and their ilk must be salivating at the prospect of 47,000,000 new insureds!

Get the middlemen out of healthcare. If the US can afford Iraq, as Greenspan said this week, then we can afford universal single payer healthcare with the savings created by eliminating the middlemen, not to mention the savings by getting out of Iraq!

Sidney Lanier, JD

Posted by: st_denys | September 21, 2007 7:13 PM | Report abuse

For anyone interested in a more substinative version of what happened last night you can read this Bloomberg article.

Posted by: pmorlan1 | September 21, 2007 12:24 PM | Report abuse

To Senator Biden:

Please name the state in which you have been the Governor; and have had executive experience (like managing a budget bigger than your office staff). New Mexico is a small state, almost like Arkansas. Surely you weren't saying Bill Clinton wasn't qualified to be President, were you?

Is your new campaign strategy to attack the guy above you? I see you aren't going after Senator Clinton, the acknowledged frontrunner. Are you afraid you won't be on her short list for VP?

Posted by: david | September 21, 2007 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Rather than debate health care, Obama stayed away "to fundraise and campaign elsewhere." No surprise. His face may look different, but his strategy to buy his way to the White House is politics as usual.

Perhaps he didn't want to explain why he leaves out the middle class in his health care plan . . . or why he plans to give $ to the poor to buy into a costly, broken system.

I wouldn't call Obama's move the "boldest." I call it evasive.

Posted by: MamaBear2008 | September 21, 2007 12:12 PM | Report abuse

We will never have affordable health care until we fix the problems. We need to fix the health care issue but we cannot fix it unless we know how it is broken. For the answer, please see

Posted by: DrColes | September 21, 2007 11:54 AM | Report abuse

There was no "clash" and "sparks did not fly". You exagerate. Discussion, yes. 100% in agreement, no. Not yet. I would put them at 80% agreement. Not bad for a start. The Republicans are at 100% agreement. They all agree to say nothing.

Posted by: ANNA2 | September 21, 2007 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Health care for every American!! Hopefully that omits every undocumented worker and persons remaining here after their visa or work permits have expired.

Amendment XIV should be changed to read "Persons born to US citizens or naturalized citizens in the US...".

Posted by: cxmiller | September 21, 2007 11:22 AM | Report abuse

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