Vice President Joe Biden is an ardent Obamacare champion, but back in 1993, when he was Delaware's Democratic senator and Hillary Clinton was the first lady, she didn't expect him to back her healthcare plan at all.
According to newly released documents from her husband's presidential library, Clinton kept a list of lawmakers who either supported or opposed her universal healthcare plan, which she had hoped at the time would be her legacy as first lady.
She wrote and circled the word "no," next to Biden's name name, reports Bloomberg. John Kerry, the then-Massachusetts senator who eventually succeeded Clinton as secretary of state, had the words "probably not" with a rectangle drawn around them, according to the released documents.
In the documents, Clinton also wrote that then-Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Wis., told her that future House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., was a “tool of Republican leadership which wants to kill admin[instration] plan.”
But Biden, Kerry and the rest of the then-lawmakers never got to vote on Clinton's proposal, which died before reaching Congress.
President Bill Clinton's advisers estimated early in his term that passing a health care overhaul would require a delicate balance of Democratic and Republican support, needing at least eight moderate Republicans in the Senate and 15 or more in the House to win approval, according to documents released Friday.
New records released from the Clinton White House show how the president's team tried to build support for the ill-fated legislation, led by former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, in setting up a schedule to achieve passage before the 1994 midterm elections. Democrats were routed in the election after the overhaul failed.
They lost control of both the House and Senate.
A strategy memo from 1993 argued the plan would require support from enough conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans without alienating too many liberal Democrats. But the bill never cleared a House committee.
"The complexity of our bill undermines our chances for success but without complexity, success is impossible," the unsigned memo said.
The documents were among about 7,500 pages of records released through the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark., on Friday, covering a wide range of topics including the former first lady's work on health care, the administration's promotion of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
The records are being closely scrutinized as former Hillary Clinton considers a second presidential campaign in 2016. She is the early frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic nomination, and key Republicans are already tying her to Obamacare because of her role in advocating for it while she was secretary of state.
The documents show parallels between the Clinton era and the current White House under President Barack Obama. Obama's health care overhaul is expected to be a major deciding point in the 2014 midterm elections and Republicans have assailed the White House for approving the 2010 legislation without a single GOP vote.
Preparing for an August 1994 news conference, Clinton discussed the teetering health care overhaul at length. "A lot of them want to know they can keep their own plan if they like it," the president told his aides. That point would be heard again, years later.
At the start of the enrollment period for the "Obamacare" plan, the government website for new signups was riddled with technical problems. A spate of private policy cancellations forced Obama to recant his pledge that all Americans who liked their health insurance plans could simply keep them.
In 1993, Clinton's team aimed to put together a diverse coalition in Congress to overhaul health care. "The winning congressional majority for health care reform depends on holding almost all liberal and moderate Democrats, winning a significant number of conservative Democrats and attracting 8-10 moderate Republicans in the Senate (assuming we need 60 votes) and 15-20 in the House," the memo said.
It identified several lawmakers as "swing voters," including former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, who was the GOP presidential nominee against Clinton in 1996, and several current House members, including Reps. Fred Upton, R-Mich., Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and Frank Pallone, D-N.J.
The released documents also show a new look at the then-first lady's role in debating for healthcare.
President Clinton, at one 1993 meeting, proposed converting closed military bases into heatlhcare centers,a and at the same meeting, his wife said the plan should be paired with a deficit-reduction plan.
“It’s a risky strategy but we can make a better case for deficit reduction to people if health care and deficit reduction are joined,” she said then.
Clinton also discussed tort reform, the documents show, and wanted aides to give her information on how states worked to limit legal awards.
When her plan dropped out, her adviser, Ann Lewis, wrote her a memo to tell her not to admit to the media that she considered it a personal loss.
“I don’t score this as a personal defeat or a political defeat for me. The people who had the most at stake in this debate don’t live at the White House: they live all over this country,” Lewis advised her to say, according to the Sept. 28, 1994 memo. And Lewis, wrote, “use humor to deflect more outrageous questions, especially about your state of mind.”
Other policy issues occupied Clinton's team. Preparing to roll out North American free trade in 1993, U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor wrote a memo to Clinton urging him to recruit newly retired Chrysler executive Lee Iacocca to take an active role in selling the trade pact to Americans.
"Iacocca resigned today from the Chrysler Board and is available," Kantor wrote. "As you know, we need a non-administration spokesperson who is telegenic, visible and articulate" to counter opponents of the deal, such as Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan. Iacocca agreed to help Clinton and appeared in a 60-second television ad promoting the deal.
After Republicans swept to victory in the 1994 elections, in part because of the failed health care overhaul, the mood at the White House was sour. "We got slaughtered," wrote communications aide David Dreyer in November 1994. "Event of historic proportions. Worse bloodbath since 1922 in the Harding administration, but even he didn't lose control of both chambers."
Obama also had a blunt reaction after Republicans won control of the House in the 2010 elections, in part because of fallout from passage of the new health care law. He described the defeat as "a shellacking."
Dreyer said that to gird against expected Republican budget cuts, the administration should propose projects that would cause political pain back home for GOP lawmakers trying to cut them.
"Make their lives miserable; they are not going to play fair, why should we?" Dreyer wrote.
Other records depict internal White House tensions between Clinton and Vice President Al Gore in the years before Gore ran for the presidency himself.
In a 1997 memo, Ron Klain, Gore's chief of staff, urged a White House presidential speechwriter to include a passage about a victim of the Oklahoma City bombing who was kicked out of his office during the 1996 government shutdown. Gore had promoted the reference.
"I am trying to knock down the idea that the Clinton White House's support for Gore is based on legacy notions and build up the idea that it is based on respect, relationships and in-the-foxhole camaraderie," Klain wrote. He added: "This anecdote rebuts the charge that
Gore lacks a Clinton-type feel for political rhetoric."
Adding that Gore had been tireless in promoting environment, science and technology issues, Klain added: "Gore was Mr. Faithful in pushing these concerns."
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