Clinton Urges Obama To Stand Firm On A Strong Public Option: Don’t ‘Give Up The Store’ To Get 60 Votes

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"Clinton Urges Obama To Stand Firm On A Strong Public Option: Don’t ‘Give Up The Store’ To Get 60 Votes"

President Clinton with progressive bloggers Yesterday, ThinkProgress joined a group of other progressive bloggers for a meeting with President Clinton at his office in Harlem. Clinton opened the discussion with details about his foundation work on areas such as HIV/AIDS and global warming, and the struggles he is having attracting new donors during the economic downturn.

Topics ranged from women’s rights to bridging the digital divide to the Waxman-Markey climate change legislation. Clinton also praised President Obama’s choice of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court, saying that he thought “it was a good thing.” “Not just because she’s a woman, and Puerto Rican, and I know her and like her, and appointed her to the court…but I think it says that we’re going forward,” he said.

But some of his most extensive comments came on the subject of health care. Clinton said that due to political and economic conditions, Obama has a far better chance of passing health care than he did in 1993:

They’ve got a much different psychological and political landscape on which to operate. [...] Second, because of the current economic conditions, they don’t have the budget constraints I did. Keep in mind, I had just passed a budget in which we raised taxes on the wealthy, cut taxes on the working poor, and were on track to reducing the deficit, and there was no – we couldn’t raise taxes again. So when I had an employer-mandate, that in effect, guaranteed that the health insurance companies would be joined by the small business community – at least the organized small business community – which made it harder to pass.

Thirdly, he does not have a Republican leader who’s running for president. Bill Kristol sent Bob Dole a letter saying, “I know you like health care and I know you want to compromise with Bill Clinton” — which he told me he would do – “but if you let him pass anything, Democrats will be a majority for a generation. You’ve got to beat it off.” [...]

And finally – and most important of all – everything is worse now. The difference – the spread – in our spending and other people’s spending in ’93, ’94, was 14 percent of GDP on health care for us, 10 percent for our next highest competitor, Canada. Now the spread is 16 ½ to 11.

Clinton said that he believes Obama will work with the Senate to achieve the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster. But he urged Obama to be ready to use the budget reconciliation process — which would require just 51 votes to pass health care — if necessary to achieve a progressive bill:

If he can’t get a good bill, I wouldn’t give away the store on that. If he can’t get a bill that’s genuine universal coverage, that genuinely is going to cut costs and make health insurers give up some of these unbelievable administrative burdens that they’ve put on people, and that really gets to the guts of the delivery system and does more primary preventive care and actually measures things that work, then I would go for the 51. But I would spend a little time trying to get to 60.

Listen here:

Other bloggers at yesterday’s meeting were Chris Bowers of Open Left, who has a post up about Clinton’s climate change remarks; Scott Lemieux of Lawyers, Guns and Money, who has a summary of the discussion; and nyceve of Daily Kos and Laurie Edwards of A Chronic Dose of Reality, both of whom reported on Clinton’s health care remarks.

Transcript:

CLINTON: First of all, one of the things I worry about with Congress is – You know that old parable about once a cat sits on a hot stove, the problem is it will never sit on a cold stove either? So you tend to assume that whatever the political landmines were in ’93, ’94 – when we were doing this – still exist.

Let me back up and say, when the Democrats won the Congress in 2006, the morning after the election I told Hillary – I said, “I don’t care what the mainstream, conventional wisdom is. You know, unless we nominate a bank robber, the nominee of the Democratic party will be the next president.” Because America has now – Mostly because starting in ’98, we had heavy majority support for not only the performance of the administration, but basically for the philosophy of – it wasn’t necessarily more left, it was more communitarian, the idea that we had to go forward together. That we couldn’t stand this level of inequality, we couldn’t stand this level of social division.

SPEAKER: Common good.

CLINTON: Yeah. And that began to be the operative mode of America. It was truncated by 9/11. Even in 2002, you go back and look at the New York Times survey. … It was three weeks before the election. It said that undecided voters by a 20-something percent margin, other things being equal, would like to vote for a Democrat for Congress because they thought the Bush administration was going to far to the right. The only reason they won seats in 2002 was because they made up that homeland security issue. It was just made up out of whole cloth.

Then in 2004, President Bush won re-election, but it was the smallest victory margin of any president re-elected since Woodrow Wilson in 1916 before World War I, and no wartime president had ever been defeated. In 2006, when the Democrats won, we were out of this 9/11 straight-jacket – emotional straight-jacket. And finally, we had seen what the consequences of what had been advocated, in terms of cultural divisions, since Nixon’s election in ’68; in terms of economic and social divisions since Reagan’s election in ’80. Those guys all got a free ride because the Democrats in Congress blocked what they wanted to do. We never got to see how it would work until President Bush got a Republican Congress. So we then became more communitarian.

Therefore, President Obama and the Congress – they need to know this. They’ve got a much different psychological and political landscape on which to operate. It doesn’t mean that people still aren’t skeptical of government, it doesn’t mean that people still can’t buy into these other arguments. But it’s a different landscape. First.

Second, because of the current economic conditions, they don’t have the budget constraints I did. Keep in mind, I had just passed a budget in which we raised taxes on the wealthy, cut taxes on the working poor, and were on track to reducing the deficit, and there was no – we couldn’t raise taxes again. So when I had an employer-mandate, that in effect, guaranteed that the health insurance companies would be joined by the small business community – at least the organized small business community – which made it harder to pass.

Thirdly, he does not have a Republican leader who’s running for president. Bill Kristol sent Bob Dole a letter saying, “I know you like health care and I know you want to compromise with Bill Clinton” — which he told me he would do – “but if you let him pass anything, Democrats will be a majority for a generation. You’ve got to beat it off.” And then we just had an automatic filibuster for everything. So you don’t have any of that; all that stuff’s gone.

And finally – and most important of all – everything is worse now. The difference – the spread – in our spending and other people’s spending in ’93, ’94, was 14 percent of GDP on health care for us, 10 percent for our next highest competitor, Canada. Now the spread is 16 ½ to 11. That’s $800 billion a year that we’re just throwing away because we’re not getting – Nobody else insures less than 100 percent. We’ve got what, 45 million people uninsured?

SPEAKER: 50.

CLINTON: 50. Whatever it is. Huge number. And we don’t get better health outcomes; we get worse health outcomes. So it’s all worse. [...]

Even the health insurance companies say they’ve got to try to [pass it], number one. Number two, the small business community is not a guaranteed opposition. Number three, the American Medical Association says they’re against a public plan, but that’s because they think they get underpaid for Medicare and Medicaid. We’ll come back to that. And number four, we’ve got a more modern, more supportive Congress. So I think all that argues that we could get universal coverage. But the problem is, they’ve got to change the delivery system enough to get costs down so that we’ll still have universal coverage five years from now.

Keep in mind we have to examine this health care thing in light of all – And let me just say, I strongly supported the President’s stimulus program and the general outlines of what they’re trying to do on housing, and financing, and automobiles, and everything else. But because President Bush – because of the recession and because President Bush passed all those tax cuts for upper-income people like me, which I opposed – we had to borrow the money to do all this. And that’s why you see – I don’t know if you’ve been watching this, but the interest rates are creeping back up now, and people may be more reluctant to buy our debt, so that’s why President Obama went to Green Bay, WI, which has a good health care delivery system and is getting better results at lower costs to do it. [...]

The other thing that people keep talking about is how complicated my bill was. You know, there’s a reason President Obama hasn’t presented a bill here. The fact is, my bill replaced hundreds of more pages of federal law than it added. It was a net simplification of the current system. The current system looks like Rube Goldberg on steroids. And so – But he’s not going to have to worry about – I think we’re going to get past the filibuster, and I think they’ll be tough enough to go to 51 votes. But they would prefer, for his long-term relationships with Congress, it would be better if we could get the 60 votes. So what I think they’ll do is go for the 60, but if it seems that people are just dug in taking positions that don’t make any sense, then I think they’ll go back to plan B. That would be my preference, because he’s got to think about what it’s going to be like next year, and the year after, and the year after, and all of that.

CHART: Wouldn’t it be nice to win one of these once in awhile?

CLINTON: What?

CHART: Wouldn’t it be nice to just win, instead of thinking about the 60 votes and the relationships?

CLINTON: No, no. I think he will win. If he can’t get a good bill, I wouldn’t give away the store on that. If he can’t get a bill that’s genuine universal coverage, that genuinely is going to cut costs and make health insurers give up some of these unbelievable administrative burdens that they’ve put on people, and that really gets to the guts of the delivery system and does more primary preventive care and actually measures things that work, then I would go for the 51. But I would spend a little time trying to get to 60.

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