Bill Clinton calls on Senate Democrats to push through health bill
By Shailagh Murray
Former president Bill Clinton urged Senate Democrats on Tuesday to overcome their differences and pass health-care reform as soon as possible, warning that politically and economically, "The worst thing to do is nothing."
Addressing the Democrats at their caucus luncheon, Clinton noted the grim consequences of his own failed reform effort in 1994: Democrats lost control of Congress in the November midterm elections, health-care costs skyrocketed, and the uninsured rate continued to rise. This time, Clinton told senators to be prepared to compromise for the sake of victory.
"It's not important to be perfect here. It's important to act, to move, to start the ball rolling," he told reporters after the meeting. "There will be amendments to this effort, whatever they pass, next year and the year after and the year after, and there should be. It's a big, complicated, organic thing. But the worst thing to do is nothing."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) invited Clinton "to share his insights" with the caucus, said Reid spokesman Jim Manley, on the eve of a Senate debate on the issue. Reid is awaiting an cost analysis from the Congressional Budget Office on the bill that he cobbled together from two committees' work. Senate Democratic leaders are now scrambling to unify the 60 members of their caucus, which must act unanimously to bring the bill to the floor.
Reporters asked Reid on Tuesday morning whether he expects to take health-care reform to the Senate floor next week, and whether the Senate and House could produce a final bill by Christmas. The Senate leader responded, "yes and yes."
Senate Democrats said they were wowed by Clinton's presentation.
"His ability to analyze complex issues is unmatched," said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). "He is able to penetrate through the fog of policy and politics better than any person I've heard."
"He made a strong case for Congress getting this done this year," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). The quicker the legislation is put aside, he said, the more closely President Obama can focus on efforts to mend the economy. "I think there is a general sense that the clock is ticking, ... that getting it done this year will in effect clear the tables and allow the focus to be on jobs, and infrastructure and education. He made a compelling case for that position."
Wyden, a policy wonk, was equally impressed by Clinton's grasp of health care details. "He recites statistics about Switzerland," Wyden said.
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who has concerns about the Senate bill and hasn't committed to help Reid break a Republican filibuster, said Clinton urged lawmakers not to expect their ideological ideal.
"He said you need to pass the best bill that you can," Nelson said. "Getting the best bill is not only good for the people, it's good politics -- and it's that simple."
November 10, 2009; 3:54 PM ET
Categories: Health Reform
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