Krugman's Stir

CHICAGO -- Paul Krugman's latest column is on the lips of AFL-CIOers and campaign officials this morning. Here's the relevant passage:

Whatever the fate of the Edwards candidacy, Mr. Edwards will deserve a lot of the credit if and when we do get universal care in this country.

Mr. Edwards has also offered a detailed, sensible plan for tax reform, and some serious antipoverty initiatives.

Four months after the Edwards health care plan was announced, Barack Obama followed with a broadly similar but somewhat less comprehensive plan. Like Mr. Edwards, Mr. Obama has also announced a serious plan to fight poverty.

Hillary Clinton, however, has been evasive. She conveys the impression that there's not much difference between her policy positions and those of the other candidates ? but she's offered few specifics. In particular, unlike Mr. Edwards or Mr. Obama, she hasn't announced a specific universal care plan, or explicitly committed herself to paying for health reform by letting some of the Bush tax cuts expire.

For those who believe that the time for universal care has come, this lack of specifics is disturbing. In fact, what Mrs. Clinton said about health care in February's Democratic debate suggested a notable lack of urgency: "Well, I want to have universal health care coverage by the end of my second term."

On Saturday, at the YearlyKos Convention in Chicago, she sounded more forceful: "Universal health care will be my highest domestic priority as president." But does this represent a real change in position? It's hard to know, since she has said nothing about how she would cover the uninsured.

Krugman is voicing a common complaint. Many of Clinton's rivals suspect that she is deliberately slow-going her domestic policy proposals in order to be able to win the primaries without tacking too far to the left. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) will extend its coveted endorsement to the candidate with the best health care plan; they've noted publicly that Clinton has yet to offer one. (Obama and Edwards are competing for that nod, incidentally.)

Clinton's team responds that they're rolling out policy on their own schedule and that Clinton doesn't have to prove her progressive policy credentials on health care. The political challenge for Clinton is to make sure that liberal interest groups don't believe she is taking their good will for granted. (And that's one of the reasons why Clinton shows up at every forum, every debate, every policy conference).