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Clinton Sees Better Chances for Health Overhaul

Sen. Hillary Clinton speaks to the Service Employees International Union in Washington, Sept. 17, 2007.
Mandel Ngan
AFP/Getty Images
Sen. Hillary Clinton speaks to the Service Employees International Union in Washington, Sept. 17, 2007.

Health care is a prime topic on the presidential campaign trail this week, since Sen. Hillary Clinton rolled out her plan for universal coverage on Monday.

She estimates her plan would cost $110 billion. And she'd roll back President Bush's tax cuts on the wealthiest to help pay for it.

Clinton has joked that she still bears "scars" from her disastrous attempt to overhaul the health-care system when she was first lady.


When she spoke with Melissa Block Tuesday, she said her new plan reflects what she learned from those mistakes. She said the "skepticism and resistance" about changing the health-care system has "dissipated considerably" since the early 1990s.

The New York Democrat also spoke about the return of $850,000 by her presidential campaign of money raised by embattled fundraiser Norman Hsu, calling the matter "a rude awakening" to her campaign and others.

And she repeated her view that the United States is "on the wrong track in Iraq," saying that Gen. David Petraeus, the senior U.S. commander in Iraq, has been given an assignment that "cannot succeed."

The following is a transcript of the interview.

Sen. Hillary Clinton: What I've tried to do in this plan is to reassure people who have insurance that if they like what they have, they can keep it, no questions asked. They can keep their doctor. They can keep whatever hospital they prefer. But if they're among the 47 million uninsured, or the millions of underinsured Americans who think that they could get better coverage at a lower cost, then they're going to have new options.


We're also providing tax credits so that people will be able to afford it because even with better choices, it is expensive for most middle-income families. And we're also going to give tax credits to small businesses, because fewer than half of all small businesses provide insurance to their employees because they can't afford it.

Melissa Block: How do you reassure businesses, though, because even with those tax credits, businesses will have to help pay? They will pay more.

Yes, they will. If they're large businesses, they have to pay. But 99 percent of large businesses already pay. We believe that we're going to give them options that will get their costs down. Because if you're having to pay for your own insurance because you're self-insured, or you are employing a lot of people in your large corporation to deal with insurance companies, you're going to have fewer costs than you do now, in order to deal with the insurance needs of your employees.

But if I'm a small-business owner and I haven't paid anything before, even with the tax credit, I'm going to be feeling this.

Well, a lot of small businesses have said over the years: They would like to be able to afford it. If they got a tax credit of 50 percent, that would make it affordable for many of them. Now, some of them will still not be able to afford it, but we will provide the tax credits then to the individual. So I think this provides a good balance, where we're going to ask for shared responsibility. Individuals will have to contribute. Businesses will have responsibilities. Drug and insurance companies will have to change the way they do business. And of course, the government will have to play a role as well.

One of your Democratic rivals, Sen. Chris Dodd, says that the mistakes you made on reform back in the '90s set back the ability to move toward universal health care, in his words, "immeasurably." How do you respond to that criticism, that you're just too polarizing a figure to lead on this issue?

Well, I believe that my experience and what I have learned from the efforts before led me to work very hard, as first lady, to help pass the Children's Health Insurance Program, to get vaccines for children, to get health care for our first responders and our veterans. So I have a unique perspective, being on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue as I have. I also believe that the country has changed. You know, there was a lot of skepticism and resistance in the early '90s. I think that has dissipated considerably. More and more people now understand why we have to take action than did back then.

You've heard the reaction coming from the Republican side. Rudolph Giuliani, one of your Republican rivals, calls your plan "a pretty clear march to socialized medicine."

(Laughter.) Well, this is not a government-run plan. It doesn't create any new bureaucracies. And it is really premised on building on what's best in the American system and fixing what's wrong. And my question for the critics is: Well what will you do? What will you do to try to get costs down, and improve quality, and cover anyone? I'm proud that, on our side, all the Democrats believe we've got to move toward universal coverage. Many of their ideas are drawn from the work that I did back in the early '90s and I am so happy to have more allies in this effort. And I'm ready to, you know, carry that banner against the Republicans in the general election.

I want to turn to another topic. Senator, your campaign recently returned $850,000 that was collected by the fundraiser Norman Hsu who, it turned out, was a fugitive from a felony fraud conviction. How embarrassing do you think that is to your campaign?

Well, I think it was a rude awakening to all of us. I mean, not only in my campaign, but the dozens of campaigns going back to, I guess, 2003 and [2004], who took contributions. None of us caught this and we all ran searches. Every one of us does a vetting process and my campaign certainly did it. And this did not turn up. And as soon as we found out, we took action. And that's one of the reasons why I think we should be moving toward public financing. And when I'm president, I'm going to see if there is a way to do just that.

Does it raise questions about the dangers of bundling? A lot of people who gave him money apparently didn't know that they were giving to your campaign at all, wouldn't have given money to your campaign if they had known.

Well, that's why we returned all of the contributions. Obviously, we didn't want any questions asked about any of them and took that rather drastic action, but I thought it was exactly the right thing to do.

Also, you told Gen. David Petraeus that his report, when he came before you in Congress, that his report on progress on the war in Iraq required, what you called, "a willing suspension of disbelief." Did you mean that he was misleading Congress?

You know, if you look at everything that I said, I not only praised his service, I have the deepest admiration for him and I think he's been dealt a very hard hand. He's been made, along with Ambassador [Ryan] Crocker, the de facto spokesman for President Bush's policy. And it isn't any surprise to anyone that I disagree with that policy. I think we are on the wrong track in Iraq. I regret that the president apparently is going to continue this war until the last day he's in office, leaving it to his successor. But I believe that Gen. Petraeus, and the brave young men and women who are serving under him, are doing everything they possibly can to fulfill their mission.

But were you saying that you didn't think Gen. Petraeus believed in what he was telling you?

I believe that Gen. Petraeus is fulfilling a very narrow mission, but you have to look at the entire context in which that mission takes place. I have no doubt that Gen. Petraeus is doing everything he humanly can. He is a great soldier and he is a great leader, but he's been given an assignment that, by its very nature, cannot succeed.

And if he's a great leader, why not repudiate the ad run in The New York Times by that called Gen. Petraeus, General Betray-us? People say that's a low blow.

Well, I speak for myself. And I have spoken for myself on numerous occasions, just finished speaking with you about my high admiration and respect for Gen. Petraeus and I will continue to do so.

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