07/23/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

White House Pushes Back: We're Doing Better Than Clinton On Health Care

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs dismissed concerns on Monday that the Obama administration has allowed Congress to take the the lead in crafting new health care reform. Saying that the process is cyclical, Gibbs argued that President Barack Obama is in a much better position to achieve reform today than former President Bill Clinton was when he took up the cause.

"There has been a point [in] each of the five months where the pundits like to talk about how everything is off the rails and dead on arrival," Gibbs said. "I think the process that the president is moving forward with -- negotiations with all the stakeholders involved -- he is making progress to long-term reform."

Gibbs' comments come one day after former Labor Secretary Robert Reich argued that the current White House had "over-learned" the lessons of the Clinton years. Hoping to avoid the secrecy that plagued the effort to reform health care 16 years ago, Obama had, Reich argued, granted too much authority to Congress.

"We have reached a tipping point," Reich declared on ABC's This Week. "And I think the problem is there are so many different bills and so many different conceptions of where the money is going to come from, whether there is going to be a mandate, whether there is going to be a public option, what the public option will look like, that there is no coherence. The president has got to go in there and give it coherence."

The Huffington Post asked Gibbs specifically about this comment during Monday's briefing, which came just hours after the Obama announced a deal to close the "donut hole" in prescription drug coverage. That move, which was endorsed by AARP, the largest health care organization representing people age 50 and over, is intended to it easier for millions of Medicare beneficiaries to pay for the medication.

After initially saying that he did not see the point in "getting involved in a debate about how we are pursuing what we are doing versus how it was pursued 16 years ago," Gibbs pushed back against Reich's analysis. The former labor secretary, Gibbs said, was "not necessarily working each and every day on what we are doing to move that reform forward."

"I don't want to get into a debate with Secretary Reich," Gibbs said, "but, again, I think the announcement today with AARP thinking this is a step toward meaningful reform and supporting that is a real difference compared to where we were 16 years ago."

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