Former President Bill Clinton said his fellow Democrats should stop “mealy mouthing around” and start taking the fight to Republicans in the final weeks before this year’s congressional elections.
“The Democrats ought to stand up and fight,” Clinton said in an interview for Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. “The Democrats have 30 days to sort of stand up, embrace the challenge, and offer a worthy alternative,” he said. “If they lay down and let it be a referendum, our side is going to get whacked.”
The former president, speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York, criticized the House Republicans’ governing agenda, the “Pledge to America” unveiled yesterday, which would cut federal spending, extend expiring tax cuts and repeal the Democrats’ health-care law.
“They don’t know that the model for success in the 21st century is a vigorous private sector, an effective government, a partnership, not these hysterical tirades against government,” he said.
Clinton, 64, called the Republican plan an “ideological document” and warned that it would be implemented at the expense of America’s middle class.
The plan is patterned after the “Contract with America,” which House Republicans unveiled in 1994, during Clinton’s first term. Six weeks after that platform was presented, Republicans won enough seats in midterm elections to gain a majority in the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years.
Clinton accused Republicans of “trying to play on people’s fears” so they can retake the Senate and the House in the Nov. 2 elections.
“I don’t care if one of them did witchcraft or not; I want to talk about how the American people are going to be affected,” Clinton said, referring to Delaware Republican Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell, who told television host Bill Maher in 1999 that she had once “dabbled into witchcraft” when she was younger.
Clinton said the primary motivation behind some of the attacks on President Barack Obama, the country’s first black president, isn’t racial; it is that opponents want to make him “the other.”
“Are they racist? No,” Clinton said. “They want to turn him into a space alien. It helps that his skin color is different. But their motivation is what it always is: power and money.”
Obama “has got to develop a tough hide,” Clinton said.
On the Middle East, Clinton said that there is a “fair chance” that peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians succeed this year. He praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who resumed direct negotiations earlier this month.
‘Blew’ an Opportunity
Clinton said the two sides “blew a big opportunity” in 2000 when they rejected his proposal for a peace agreement.
“You’ve got two leaders in Netanyahu and Abbas who can do this deal,” Clinton said. “They get that they need to do this, and they see now, from not doing it 10 years ago, how much harder it gets, in some ways, if you wait another 10 years; that it’s madness.”
Obama brought Abbas and Netanyahu together for discussions in Washington on Sept. 2 and the two met again last week in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, and Jerusalem.
On the midterm election campaign, Clinton said the Republican agenda would cut aid to middle-class and lower-income Americans by 25 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars and damage education initiatives. He said the Republican proposals would hurt the U.S.’s global economic competitiveness.
“Their objective for 30 years has been to dismantle the federal government,” he said. “They have a model for the future that none of our competitors have embraced.”
Clinton said Republicans also want to “repeal the financial oversight bill” that Obama signed into law July 21 in response to the financial crisis that began in 2008. Rolling back the new protections would “let banks go back to gambling,” he said. “And that’s a mistake.”
“They want everybody else to pay more for less government,” Clinton said. “And none of it has anything to do with our competitive position.”
The Republican plan calls for extending all the tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003 and which expire at the end of this year. Obama has proposed keeping the lower tax rates for most taxpayers, while letting the cuts expire for individuals who earn more than $200,000 or couples earning more than $250,000.
“They want to give 117 percent of all the tax benefits to the top 5 percent,” Clinton said.
The Republican plan would repeal the health-care law passed this year and replace it with longstanding Republican priorities such as controlling medical-malpractice costs, expanding health- savings accounts and allowing people to buy insurance policies across state lines. It would provide health coverage to those Americans who are most costly to insure by expanding high-risk pools and reinsurance programs.
The agenda outlines “our intent and how we will stand together and move this country forward,” Representative Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican, told reporters yesterday.
House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio was an architect of the 1994 plan as well as the new version. Democrats regained the House majority in 2006.
Clinton said Democrats need to articulate what their party favors so there can be a “real debate.”
“If they can make this election a choice, they’ve got a fair chance to do better than everybody thinks,” he said.
--With assistance from Patrick O’Connor and James Rowley in Washington. Editors: Robin Meszoly, Bob Drummond.
To contact the reporters on this story: Julianna Goldman in New York at email@example.com; Nicholas Johnston in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
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