Jewish World Review July 3, 2003 / 3 Tamuz, 5763
At moment of truth, Hillary turns backwards
The very essence of President Clinton's approach to domestic problems was his
willingness to compromise to remove the political footballs both parties liked to kick
around at election time and get something concrete accomplished instead.
By balancing the budget, reforming welfare and passing important anti-crime
legislation, he boldly took potentially lucrative campaign issues away from both his
partisans and his opponents and left historic achievements behind in their place.
The Senate Democrats faced just such a decision June 27: whether to preserve intact
their key election issue, prescription drugs for the elderly, or accept legislation that
went far but not all the way toward accomplishing their goal. The resulting
vote separated the partisans from the patriots.
The former, eager to win elections, decided to try to kill any real progress in the
hopes of harvesting the votes of needy elderly. The latter, conscious that history
hung in the balance, decided to seize the historic opportunity to relieve the anxiety
and pain of America's elderly and vote for what amounts to half-price drugs.
Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) led the way by insisting
on taking half a loaf. When President Bush abandoned the traditional Republican
effort to emasculate Medicare by transforming it into a private insurance program,
Kennedy and Daschle recognized the historic nature of Bush's concession and realized
that such a chance to move ahead may not come again.
But Hillary Clinton chose to remain among the extreme partisans. After the failure
of her healthcare initiative of 1993-94, we had all assumed that she had modified
her Maoist all-or-nothing approach and was committed to accepting incremental
change. In that spirit, she backed the Kennedy-Kassebaum bill for portable health
benefits, even though it fell far short of the utopia she had designed the year before.
But now, breaking with fellow Democrat Charles Schumer (the senator who really is
from New York), she has opted to obstruct progress and deny the elderly any relief at
all so as to keep the partisan issue alive. Perhaps she will take time out from her $8
million book tour to reflect on how hard it must be for the elderly to pay for
prescription drugs without any federal assistance.
Had Bush demanded fundamental changes in Medicare and insisted on using the
elderly's need for medicine to drive them to HMOs or other private insurance plans
and demolish fee-for-service Medicare, Hillary would have been right to vote no. But
once Bush agreed to put prescription drug coverage under traditional Medicare and
advocated a package similar in total cost to that urged by the Democrats, the
justification for her opposition vanished.
House Democrats marched in their usual lockstep to the beat of their campaign
committee to kill the compromise plan so as to keep the issue going for two more
years. The ultraconservative House Republicans voted for the purist ideology to
continue the assault on Medicare begun by former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in
Both House Democrats and Hillary would rather sacrifice the prescription drug
benefit to make one last attempt to win votes on Election Day. The
ultraconservatives would give them up to push their revisionist view of Medicare.
But last Friday was the day that separated the realists from the ideologues, the
pragmatists from the opportunists, the sincere from the political. Why could Hillary
not accept what Kennedy, Schumer, and Daschle found acceptable?
In the ongoing dialogue between Hillary's head and heart, between her pragmatic
understanding of the need to compromise and her impulsive support for sweeping
and radical change, the heart won. When she runs for president in 2008, couching
herself as a pragmatic moderate, let's all remember that when the chips were down,
she voted to keep kicking the political football rather than give elderly federal
assistance in buying medicine.
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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, Off with Their Heads: Traitors, Crooks & Obstructionists in American Politics, Media & Business"
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© 2002, Dick Morris