Former President Bill Clinton appeared pessimistic about the prospects for President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform bill, saying in an interview with Fox News Monday that the loss he suffered trying to push healthcare reform through Congress during his first year in office resembles the difficulties the Democrats are having today.
“Healthcare is hard to do,” Clinton told Fox News’ Major Garrett, “but I thought it would happen this time because all the trends that prompted me to act are worse.”
Clinton, back at work after a minor heart procedure this month, said many of the challenges President Barack Obama is facing are similar to those he and his administration went up against. Clinton’s healthcare reform bill ultimately failed and Democrats went on to lose the House of Representatives to the Republican Party in the 1994 midterm elections.
“The same thing happened,” Clinton said about Obama’s current effort to revive healthcare reform.
“There are lots of things we can do to cut the costs, so I thought it would happen. I don’t know if it was an overreach, but I think they either needed to move faster or slower. If they had a bill that the Senate and the House should have reached a grand center and set about implementing it so that all the fears that were raised could either be disproved, or if they turned out to make a mistake, they'd have time to start correcting them. Either that or you have to deal with all the economic issues first.”
One problem, according to Clinton, is that “it is very hard to see how America can be a leading economy in the world in the 21st century if we spot everybody else a trillion dollars before we ever start to work. That's essentially what we're doing with healthcare costs.”
Clinton said Democrats in 2010 can do better than they did in the 1994 elections, but only if Democratic Party leaders can deliver on some of the other major issues of the day.
“If we get any breaks on the economy –– and [if] my party’s rank and file leaders keep their heads on straight and keep focusing on the need to show up and be counted –– I don’t think it will be as bad as 1994.”
Clinton said the difference between his attempt to pass healthcare reform and that of President Obama is that the current administration has more advanced notice on what it needs to do.
“The biggest problem that the president's got is…the danger that people who want healthcare will be disappointed and stay home,” Clinton said. “That happened to me, but there's also a lifetime between starting an economic progress and having people feel it. In our case, interest rates went down and the deficit went down, but it was going down for three years before the majority of the people believed it was going down. And it takes time for the economy to really pick up again. And that's certainly true here because it went down so low. But I think this year if a lot of this stimulus money that hasn't been spent, particularly on roads and bridges and water and sewer and the energy projects, if the rest of it goes through the pipeline, we may see a real employment pickup this year.”
Clinton called Obama a persuasive man and believes that may be the key to getting healthcare reform passed.
"If they really focus and catch a break or two, I don't think it'll be as bad as it was in '94," he added about the Democratic Party’s 2010 election dilemma.
“The problem with all midterm elections is if that there's a disparity in turnout, then whatever the real difference is is exaggerated. We won some seats in 2006 no one thought the Democrats would win because the Republicans were dispirited and Democrats were inflamed. It was just the reverse of now.”
Clinton was ambivalent about the White House’s decision to try alleged 9/11 co-conspirators in New York City, telling Fox News that the administration should consider holding the controversial trials elsewhere.
“It costs so much more to provide security in New York,” Clinton said. “It’s big, crowded, and densely packed. If they can find someplace else to have it, maybe they should.
“American juries are really tough on terrorists,” Clinton said in support of trying holding trials in the civilian justice system as opposed to military tribunals. “They gave them on average longer sentences and harsher penalties than the military tribunals, and they were quite successful in making the convictions. But I hope that this can be worked out so that [they] can receive a prompt trial in a place where everyone can live with it.”
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