Inside 42's lunch with Senate Dems
By CAROL E. LEE & CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN | 11/10/09 8:25 PM
Inside 42's lunch with Senate Dems
Bill Clinton walks through Capitol Hill as reporters ask questions. John Shinkle Close
With the issue he has positioned to be his crowning achievement as president at a crossroads, Barack Obama once again called on his former rival to help him follow through.
Former President Bill Clinton told a room full of Democratic senators Tuesday that passing health care reform — which he failed to do 15 years ago — is not only a moral issue but also “an economic imperative.”
Clinton argued that even “the most cold-hearted person” ought to support health care reform simply from an economic standpoint. He reminded Democrats of the political momentum their failure to pass reform in 1993 delivered the House of Representatives to the Republicans the following year.
"The point I want to make is: Just pass the bill, even if it's not exactly what you want," Clinton told Democrats. "When you try and fail, the other guys write history.”
LISTEN: President Clinton talks health care on the Hill
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said Clinton described the ongoing tea party protests against the Democratic agenda as a sign their party was making progress.
Whitehouse quoted Clinton arguing: "The reason the tea-baggers are so inflamed is because we are winning."
Clinton’s overall message was one the Obama administration has tried to make: not passing a bill is worse than passing one that’s not perfect. ldquo;So it’s not important to be perfect here, it’s important to act, to move, to start the ball rolling, to claim the evident advantages that all these plans agree with, and whatever they can get the votes for, I’m gonna support,” Clinton said he told the senators. “I think it is good politics to pass this and to pass this as soon as they can. But I think the most important thing is it is the right thing for America. The worst thing to do is nothing.”
The former president’s visit to the Hill, where he has many deep ties, is steeped with irony, given Clinton’s record on the issue and the fact that the White House has gone to great lengths not to proceed on the issue in the same vein as the Clintons did.
But those are precisely the reasons why White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel reached out to the former president. And a source close to Clinton said the former president was happy to — if not took pride in — taking on the role.
“He sees a real chance to do now what they tried to do in ’93,” the source said, adding that Clinton believes that as a former president he has an obligation to do what he can to assist his successor. The source also noted that as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who took a lead role on health care reform in 1993, is barred from speaking about the politics of the issue. Still, Obama’s calling on Bill Clinton to help with the final push of his health care initiative is the latest twist in what is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing political dramas of modern times — one where Clinton is emerging as an elder statesman of sorts to the Democratic Party.
Obama most recently turned to Clinton for help during a crisis in North Korea, where the former president was dispatched to the hermit country where two journalists were being held captive. The two had lunched recently in Manhattan, and Obama spoke at Clinton’s Global Initiative. Clinton also came out, with White House urging, to campaign for struggling Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds.
Like Obama’s nomination of Hillary Clinton as his top diplomat, Obama’s decision to turn to Clinton to help close the deal shows his acknowledgment of his enduring influence.
Clinton spoke to Democrats as divisions within the party between liberals and conservatives could derail reform. His words carry extra weight given his position as the consummate centrist, not to mention that he has long ties with members on the Hill — Clinton specifically mentioned Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus in his remarks to stress that the conservative Montana Democrat, like Clinton, wants reform and even if moderates and liberals disagree, they agree on wanting to see a bill on Obama’s desk.
Clinton also used Baucus to highlight a key difference from 1994. Then-Finance Committee Chairman Pat Moynihan (D-N.Y.) was not on board with comprehensive health care reform like Baucus is today, Clinton said, according to a Senate aide