Bill Clinton to Dems: Don't avoid Medicare reforms after NY win

Former President Bill Clinton cautioned his party Wednesday against avoiding reforms to Medicare even though the GOP’s unpopular overhaul plan helped Democrats score an upset victory in New York’s 26th district.

“The race was about Medicare,” Clinton said of Democrat Kathy Hochul's win in Tuesday's special election. But, he added, “I am afraid that the Democrats will draw the conclusion … that we shouldn’t do anything. I completely disagree with that.

“The Democrats may have to give up some short-term political gain by whipping up fear, if it’s a reasonable Social Security proposal, if it’s a reasonable Medicare proposal. You cannot have healthcare devour the economy,” he said.

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He said the plan by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), which turns Medicare into a type of voucher system, is “not the best one," contending there's no reason to believe the plan will give seniors sufficient market power to drive down prices. In fact, Clinton said, it will likely explode healthcare costs. 

But Clinton insisted that Medicare costs have to be dealt with to get a grip on budget deficits.

The former president charged that Republicans are being haunted by their decision to distort the Obama healthcare reforms to Medicare Advantage in the 2010 election. “The Republicans ran to the left of the Democrats,” he noted. He reiterated a complaint that Democrats did not do enough on the campaign trail to explain the changes.

Democrats favor reining in healthcare costs by strengthening the power of the Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board to restrict payments.

Clinton said that Medicare and Medicaid reform can be done only as part of a plan to reduce healthcare cost inflation.

The former president, speaking at a fiscal summit convened by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, said he believes there will be a bipartisan deficit deal. He argued that the pain of cuts should be delayed until the economic recovery has taken root.

The “genius of Bowles-Simpson,” Clinton said, referring to the fiscal commission plan, is that it makes “big changes,” but delays them.

Clinton said politicians should not be held captive to polls that show the public is against raising the debt ceiling, and he said that President Obama may need to give an address on the consequences of a default.

He also said that one of the worst things about the growing national debt is the fact that the nation owes money to countries that have a trade surplus with the United States.

He said the U.S. has reduced trade-agreement enforcement over a decade due to fear of its creditors.

“Nobody slugs their banker,” he said.

This post was updated at 11:13 a.m.