President Clinton tells Senate Dems clock ticking on healthcare

Former President Bill Clinton on Tuesday used his hourlong lunch with Senate Democrats to push for a healthcare bill this year instead of punting the issue to 2010.

Democrats say Clinton explained his missteps during the 1993 debate, avoided specifics such as urging a public option plan and zeroed in on the need for quick action.

"He focused on the importance of this year," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). "There is a sense that the clock is ticking."

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Another Democrat who spoke on condition of anonymity said Clinton stressed quick action and that "the perfect is the enemy of the good."

Clinton also was frank about his failure to pass healthcare during his presidency, added a third senator. Specifically, Clinton said he did not adequately explain to the public the impact of Senate filibusters and the need for reform. The former president later urged Democrats to educate the public about how their wages are impacted by the lack of reform.

One key difference Clinton told Democrats between 1993 and 2009, senators said: Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus wants a bill, while former Chairman Daniel Patrick Moynihan did not.

At the time, Moynihan expressed concern with Clinton's proposal because of its cost, and he strongly objected to the former president's plan to fix employers' healthcare contributions to the size of their balance sheets and payrolls. All told, Moynihan argued in 1994, Democrats' proposal would have adversely impacted businesses and workers, much less the federal government and the national economy.

Clinton related that story -- and a series of lessons he also shared with Democrats -- to reporters upon leaving the Democratic lunch.

"My argument was, this is an economic issue. The second thing is that on the policy, there is no perfect bill because there's always going to be consequences," Clinton said. "So there will be amendments to this effort, whatever they pass. But the worst thing to do is nothing. That was my message to them, and those are my reasons.... It's not important to be perfect, but it's important to move, to get the ball rolling."

Nevertheless, the Senate is poised to take up healthcare reform as soon as next week. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hopes to file a motion to proceed to the healthcare bill by Monday or Tuesday.

The procedural motion would serve as an early test of unity for the 60 senators who caucus as Democrats. Several members have wavered over whether they would support procedural votes.



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