WASHINGTON – Bill Clinton predicted Tuesday that President Barack Obama's historic health care overhaul will become law, even as top Democrats hunted for the elusive votes to pass the sweeping measure.
"I just want it to pass, and I think it will," the former president told reporters during a rare visit to the Congress for closed-door talks with Senate Democrats, billed as focused on climate change and job creation.
His comments came as Republicans trained their fire on the procedural tactics Democrats seemed likely to use to pass the bill and minimize any potential political damage in November mid-term elections.
"The majority plans to force the toxic Senate bill through the House under some controversial trick," said Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner, who warned uneasy Democrats "there is no way to hide from this vote."
Top House Democrats said they had not settled on a final strategy but did nothing to deter talk that they would rely on a relatively common parliamentary maneuver called a "self-executing rule" for formal legislative debate.
Instead of voting to pass the Senate's version of the bill -- which many House Democrats oppose -- the House would vote on a "rule" that declares the Senate measure passed only once the House amends it to their liking.
Republicans have often relied on such a tactic but charged that it has never been used on legislation of the size and scope of Obama's plan, which aims to extend health care coverage to at least 31 million Americans who lack it.
"We're playing it straight," insisted Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who predicted the president's allies would have the votes needed for passage by the time the measure comes up.
Top Democrats were due to meet Tuesday to map out their legislative strategy in anticipation of the latest estimates from the independent Congressional Budget Office on the legislation's impact and overall cost.
Obama's allies in the House, facing united Republican opposition, were also hunting for the necessary votes to pass the measure, as Senate Democrats planned to use a parliamentary procedure called "reconciliation" to skirt the minority's ability to indefinitely delay, and therefor kill, the bill.
With the measure's future in doubt, Democrats got help from Bill Clinton, who stressed "it doesn't have to be perfect" and predicted lawmakers would have to keep working to fine-tune the system.
Clinton said he would be "one happy fella" when the bill passes but said his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, might be even happier.
"Maybe Hillary'll be the happiest person in America, I'll be the second happiest person. Even more than President Obama, even more than (White House chief of staff) Rahm (Emanuel)" and other top aides, he said.
During his administration, Hillary Clinton took the lead in crafting a sweeping health care overhaul, only to watch it crumble in 1994 under attacks from Republicans and insurers and doubts from centrist Democrats.
The former president also told a forum on the Internet's rise that, when it comes to health care, Americans "pay too much and get too little" compared to other global powers.
The United States is the world's richest nation but the only industrialized democracy that does not ensure that all of its citizens have health care coverage, with an estimated 36 million Americans uninsured.
And Washington spends vastly more on health care -- both per person and as a share of national income as measured by Gross Domestic Product -- than other industrialized democracies, but with no meaningful edge in quality of care, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
But "most Americans find it inconceivable that anybody could do something as basic as health care better than we do," he said, so "there is this unreal debate that actually acts like what we've got is worth preserving."
Still, Clinton, in a nod to his history of cardiac problems, said the US system treats heart problems well, "otherwise somebody else would be giving this speech."
© AFP 2013