By Justin Sink - 11/12/13 03:27 PM EST
Conservatives say former President Clinton’s comments about President Obama’s healthcare promises are a clear effort to distance himself and his wife from the troubled ObamaCare rollout.
Hillary Clinton is seen as the overwhelming favorite to win the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, and conservatives believe Clinton’s comments were an initial step away from ObamaCare, an issue they believe could damage Democrats in the next two election cycles.
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat joked that Clinton’s solution for individuals losing their existing health plans under ObamaCare was to “elect Hillary in 2016.”
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), usually not a vocal fan of the former Democratic president, applauded Clinton’s ObamaCare comments, seemingly seeing them as a political gift.
Clinton made waves by saying Obama should change the law to allow people to keep their existing plans under ObamaCare. He also said Obama should “honor” the commitment made to those who believed they could keep their old plans.
“I personally believe, even if it takes a change in the law, that the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they’ve got,” Clinton said in an interview at OZY.com.
The comments were striking given the controversy over dropped health plans, which led Obama to apologize last week to those who cannot keep their insurance plans under the new law. Obama repeatedly said in selling the overhaul to the public that people who liked their existing plans could keep them.
The uproar has Democrats worried that the healthcare law could cost their party at the polls next year. Several red-state Democrats up for reelection have backed legislation that would require insurance companies to offer the old plans.
Some longtime members of Clinton’s camp, however, said they did not believe Clinton was trying to create distance from the president's healthcare law, which both he and his wife have previously touted.
Ally Paul Begala argued Clinton's statement was “in line” with those made previously by Obama.
Begala noted that in an interview with NBC News last week, Obama said he was “deeply concerned” about instances where individuals who had privately purchased health insurance were receiving cancellation notices. In the same interview, Obama said he had assigned his team to explore ways to close some of the holes in the law.
“The key here is that President Obama and Democrats want to fix the health care law; Republicans want to kill it,” Begala said. “The winning message is, ‘Mend it, don't end it,’ so I am always glad to see Democrats say they want to mend the healthcare law; that's what the American people want.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney made the same argument to reporters Tuesday afternoon.
Carney said the president agreed with Clinton that the problem needed to be addressed.
“The president, as you know, has pledged to ask his team, task his team to look at potential actions that could be taken to address this problem, because his focus is on making sure that people get quality and affordable health insurance,” Carney said.
Carney said that the former president retained his title of “explainer in chief” bestowed upon him by the president during the 2012 campaign, and he stressed that in the same interview, Clinton said that “we are better off with this law than without it."
“The goal here is to achieve what President Clinton and presidents, both Democratic and Republican, sought to achieve in the past, which is to reform our healthcare system in a way that builds on the private sector system that we have, that makes it more affordable, with better coverage, for more Americans,” Carney said.
Democratic strategist Peter Fenn also discounted the notion that Clinton was trying to create distance from ObamaCare, noting that both presidents had long acknowledged that they would need to tweak and change the program based on its size. Fenn, a contributor the The Hill's Pundits Blog, said Clinton’s comments could even help Obama politically by giving him cover to accept changes to the law.
“I think he’s trying to open up the road a little bit for Obama on this whole question of making changes in the ACA,” Fenn said. “This is a very complex problem and one size isn’t going to fit all.”
Still, the White House seemed reluctant to embrace a legislative fix for the canceled insurance plans Tuesday, but it stopped short of ruling it out.
Carney warned that some of the proposed legislation “would create more problems than it fixed” because it allowed insurers to undercut prices of exchange plans with policies that “charge women double or didn't cover basic services or impose caps.”
Carney said he wouldn’t rule out any possible solutions until the president had “chosen which option he wants to pursue.”