Clinton Rachets Up Contrast With Obama On Health Care

For a few months, a Barack Obama television ad in New Hampshire has touted his health care plan's promise to cover everyone.

Today, Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, in remarks aimed at Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, called the claim "completely false" and "should be taken off the air."

Neera Tandem, Clinton's policy adviser, said: "Choosing to forgo a mandate [means] it is not universal."

But reporters on this conference call had questions for Tanden. Ron Brownstein wanted to know, in absence of any information about how much money lower income families would have to spend on health care before having spent enough to qualify for subsidies, how could the campaign know that everyone would be covered?

A Los Angeles Times reporter wanted to know how Clinton's mandate would be enforced. "She would enforce her mandate through default enrollment," Tanden said.

Those who, for example, go to the emergency room and are found to lack insurance would be automatically enroll.(John Edwards's plan has a similar mechanism).

By way of rebuttal, Obama's advisers circulated comments by MIT's Jonathan Gruber, a Clinton adviser, who acknowledged that any plan short of "single payer" would allow about a percent and a half of the U.S. population -- around 2 million people -- to go without coverage.

Though the ad has been around for months, Clinton's team may have been prompted to act in the wake of a withering column by New York Times's Paul Krugman. His lede is:

"From the beginning, advocates of universal health care were troubled by the incompleteness of Barack Obama’s plan, which unlike those of his Democratic rivals wouldn’t cover everyone. But they were willing to cut Mr. Obama slack on the issue, assuming that in the end he would do the right thing."

For the Clinton campaign, the debate encapsulates their core argument against Obama: that Clinton's experience gives her a font of knowledge and judgment on critical issues that Obama simply lacks.

Bill Burton, Obama's spokesman, says: "The Clinton campaign didn't say a word when this ad was released a month ago, and the only thing that's changed since then is the poll numbers. The truth is, Barack Obama's universal plan will provide coverage to every single American who can't afford it and do more to cut the cost of health care than any other plan in this race. Rather than spending their time attacking Barack Obama, the Clinton campaign should explain how exactly they plan to force every American to buy health insurance even if they can't afford it."