03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Clinton To Dems: GOP Will Define Debate If Health Care Fails

Former President Bill Clinton urged Democratic senators to score a victory on health care reform in the weeks ahead, warning that a failure to pass legislation would leave them particularly vulnerable to Republican attack.

Addressing the caucus just one day before they head to recess, Senate sources tell the Huffington Post that Clinton made a fairly emotional and political plea for action.

"If you don't win this, the opposition will define the issue," a Senate aide who was briefed on the meeting, paraphrased the former president as saying. "[Clinton] noted that Hilary Care was defined in a way that didn't resemble what it truly was. His point was that you better win, or you risk being tagged by whatever they want to tag you with. The 'they' being Republicans, Republican strategists, candidates, etc..."

The former president, who is perhaps the best living symbol of the political harm incurred by failing to pass health care reform, told reporters that his message was: "The worst thing to do is nothing."

Inside closed doors, he bucked up Senate Democrats during the Caucus lunch and, according to one person in attendance, spent 20 minutes afterward "discussing health care with different groups of members that came up to talk to him." The list included not just fence-sitters but die-hard reform proponents as well.

In addition to warning of a pending Republican victory, Clinton also laid out the reasons that reform could be a success. According to the Senate aide, the former president listed several ways in which the current landscape is more favorable than that which he confronted.

Clinton, the aide relayed, noted that "among the differences from last time is that this time around we have a Finance [Committee] chairman [Max Baucus] who has been working very hard to get health care done and wants to get health care done. The contrast was to [Daniel Patrick] Moynihan [who scuttled Clinton's efforts] last time."

After the meeting, Clinton summarized his pep talk as follows (per the The New York Times):

So I think it is good politics to pass this and to pass it as soon as they can. But I think the most important thing is, it's the right thing for America. We just simply -- the worst thing to do is nothing. The worst thing to do is to keep dragging around a 16.5 percent of G.D.P. health-care system that doesn't sent cover everybody, doesn't get the right results and do so much better.

Look at the A.M.A. -- endorsed it. They joined the nurses and AARP. I mean, every doctor I know is screaming inside every day because of the way that the whole financing and bureaucracy requirements of the health-care system have taken away a lot of the joy of practicing medicine and claimed more time.

The worst thing to do is nothing. That was my message to them and those are my reasons.

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