The following piece was produced through OffTheBus, a citizen journalism project hosted at the Huffington Post and launched in partnership with NewAssignment.Net. For more information, read Arianna Huffington's project introduction. If you'd like to join our blogging team, sign up here If you're interested in other opportunities, you can see the list here.
Des Moines, Iowa --- It started out as a typical campaign announcement event as Senator Hillary Clinton unveiled her much awaited $110 billion dollar universal health care program that promises choice and coverage to the 47 million uninsured Americans desperate for health care, along with assurances of cooperation with Congress and no additional bureaucracy or increased federal spending. So far, so good. It was only after the press conference when things got squirrelly and reminded me once again that this is still a Clinton campaign.
After her press announcement when Senator Clinton was already being whisked off to her next campaign stop in Washington D.C., the assembled journalists met with her health care policy team. But before we could start querying the three member panel, the Clinton press handlers attempted to control the spin by announcing, "This will be for background only." That's press-speak for: "It's off the record."
Was this a bad flashback to the secretive Clinton White House years?
I remembered the first Clinton Health Care Plan that sunk under the shroud of secrecy, mismanagement, and pure guile by shutting-out the press, Congress, and stakeholders (that's policy wonk speak for hospitals, docs, nurses, insurance companies, etc. etc.) proposing a 300-page program that made millions already happy with their health care skittish about the requirement of joining a new Uber-universal health care plan destined for oblivion.
"Why is it [the meeting] background?" asked a testy Dan Balz of the Washington Post, who was sitting next to me.
"Well, unless there's some brilliant quote, we want this to be just background," said Jay Carson, Clinton's National Press Secretary.
"But why? That's why we're here; to find out who these people are and what their contribution has been and is," I chimed in.
"Unless we're going to have a revolt, this will be background," Carson responded coolly.
More grumbling and grousing by Balz and Huffington Post's OffTheBus until Carson relented to our demands that the meeting be on record and the policy team of Neera Tanden, Gene Sperling, and Laurie Rubiner began explaining the finer details of Senator Clinton's latest health care plan for the nation.
I asked if any of the current advisors had been involved in the 1994 Clinton Health Care Plan directed by then-First Lady Hillary Clinton and Gene Sperling admitted to being a part of that failed program. He is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank, but also served as President Bill Clinton's Chief Economic adviser and Director of the National Economic Council.
Sperling summarized the differences between the first Clinton Health Care Plan and the current program offered by Senator Clinton:
"This is a simpler plan and goes much further in protecting the people who like their coverage to keep their coverage. In 93 and 94, to prevent any possibility in selection issues, everybody had to go into health alliance. That was an issue that was disconcerting for people, so now you have choice. Secondly, there was a national board specifying [types of coverage] and I think that led to a lot of concern about a single government entity making all these decisions. There's a third difference. [In the old plan] small businesses had to provide coverage [for all their employees] and that meant an extra tax on them and this led to a lot of opposition and a lot of concern that it would impact on workers wages. The new plan creates a health care tax credit for small businesses that will provide incentives for job-based coverage."
Laurie Rubiner served as Director of Health Care Programs for New America Foundation, a think tank headquartered in the nation's capital before she joined the Clinton policy team and she continued the comparison:
"On government bureaucracy, our goal is not to create any new entities. We feel confident that we would be able to use the existing bureaucracy to oversee the new plan. Having said that, we know we haven't crossed all the T's and dotted all the I's because a lot of this can be worked through the Congress where there is a lot of expertise."
That's a lot left on the table. How do you sign up 47 million people without adding staff, bureaucracy, rules, and regulations? That question was never fully answered to anyone's satisfaction, but if you don't believe me, read the entire plan on www.hillaryclinton.com.
Neera Tanden, who didn't participate in the last Clinton Health Care Reform attempt but who has been with the Clintons during their White House days as Senior Policy Advisor to the First Lady and now serves as Hillary Clinton's Presidential Campaign Policy Director, summarized the new Clinton Health Care Plan 2008 from the old plan:
"The core issues here are preserving choice and expanding access. From the experience of 93-94, a president doesn't need to put out a 300-page framework, specifying every detail. We want to build a strong coalition with Congress to ensure that everyone has health insurance."
While Senator Clinton's new health care plan requires Congressional input and public feedback, this Clinton campaign is still staffed at the highest levels by former aides now returning from their exile in think tanks to hopefully retake the White House and pass a national health care reform bill. Unfortunately, some of the old bad habits of Clinton White House years of secrecy, press control, and arrogance remain as deeply embedded as ever.
The above piece was produced through OffTheBus, a citizen journalism project hosted at the Huffington Post and launched in partnership with NewAssignment.Net. For more information, read Arianna Huffington's project introduction. If you'd like to join our blogging team, sign up here. If you're interested in other opportunities, you can see the list here.