POLITICS
05/14/2014 11:04 pm ET Updated May 15, 2014

Bill Clinton: 'Terrible Mistake' For Democrats To Run Away From Obamacare In 2014

WASHINGTON -- Former President Bill Clinton offered a full-throated defense of Obamacare to a crowd of progressives Wednesday night, urging Democrats not to run away from their votes for health care reform in the 2014 elections.

"I think that it is a colossal error to be afraid to discuss policy with the American people or to think they don't care or to think that they can't get it. I think it's a terrible mistake for people who voted for the health care bill to run away from it," said Clinton to applause. He delivered the keynote address at the Center for American Progress's annual fundraising dinner at the Newseum.

"I think you can trust the American people to figure out it'd be far better to fix what's wrong with this bill than to keep trying to repeal it. And I think that's what we ought to say," he added.

A recent analysis by The Huffington Post found that Democratic candidates this election cycle are generally keeping Obamacare at arm's length, with House members more enthusiastic about their role in the law's passage than senators who are up for reelection.

Clinton also defended President Barack Obama's now-famous promise that, "If you like your current plan, you will be able to keep it." Republicans hammered the president when some insurers had to cancel plans that didn't meet new standards under the Affordable Care Act.

"And this whole business about, 'you can keep the policy if you like it'? The president said, and the law reflects, that nobody has to get rid of any policy that is operative at the time the law is signed," said Clinton. "But insurance companies, with the support of state regulators, make sure that 80 percent of the policies in the individual market don't last more than two years anyway. And he did not promise to take over the insurance industry or to take over the state regulation."

Clinton also chastised the media for focusing so much on the technical problems of HealthCare.gov, saying it was a small part of the new law.

"It's true most of the coverage is about how bad the rollout was in the individual insurance market. You know what percentage of the people are in the individual insurance market? About 10," he said.

Clinton's address, broadly, was around the theme that "policy matters," reflecting that he was speaking at a progressive think tank that has provided ideas for the Obama administration. He also hit on the theme of income inequality, a topic Democrats are focusing on this cycle.

He urged members of the audience -- most of them CAP donors -- to notice the servers and staff at the event.

"When you came in you saw all the people getting all the food ready -- when you go back out, look at them and wonder how many of them can never afford to come to an event like this," he said.

"This inequality debate we're having today is very important," he added. "But it's important to recognize that reducing income inequality was a noble goal because income inequality is a severe constraint on growth. It is here, and it is all over the world. The most comfortable people in society should be obsessed with increasing middle-class incomes and increasing social mobility so more poor people move into the middle class, because it's a severe constraint on our collective growth."

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