Would President Hillary Have Saved or Doomed Health Care?

Another round in a favorite beltway parlor game

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Beltway journalists have such a fascination with the Clintons, and particularly Hillary Clinton ever since her failed 2008 presidential bid, that her position as U.S. Secretary of State, one of the world's most important diplomatic posts, is simply not enough to satiate their appetites. So we are once again playing one of the most popular Washington parlor games: What if Hillary was president? Pundits have explored how a President Hillary Clinton would have done the first year differently, whether she will run for president again the future, and whether she will replace Joe Biden as Vice President. Now Hillary-watchers are evaluating how a Hillary Clinton administration would have handled health care reform and what that would have meant for the 2010 midterm elections. Here's what they're saying:

  • Would Have Scaled Back to Focus on Economy  The Washington Post's Dana Milbank writes, "Clinton campaign advisers I spoke with say she almost certainly would have pulled the plug on comprehensive health-care reform rather than allow it to monopolize the agenda for 15 months. She would have settled for a few popular items such as children's coverage and a ban on exclusions for pre-existing conditions. That would have left millions uninsured, but it also would have left Democrats in a stronger political position and given them more strength to focus on job creation and other matters, such as immigration and energy. ... Most important, there can be little doubt that, whatever policies emerged, she would have maintained a laser focus on the economy; after all, she did that during the 2008 campaign, when it wasn't as central an issue."
  • Wouldn't Have Avoided Right-Wing Opposition  New York Magazine's John Heilemann writes, "Some speculate that Clinton was so scarred by her experience in 1993 and 1994 that she would have shied away from it altogether. But people close to Hillary consider that view nonsense. 'Health care was her thing, her passion, her highest priority,' says one. 'She might have pursued it differently than he did, but she would’ve pursued it just as hard.' It’s possible, of course, that in the face of Scott Brown’s election, she would have acceded to the (inevitable) counsel of her Über-strategist Mark Penn to scale back her ambitions. Or, then again, she might have gotten the thing passed more quickly than Obama did. What seems dubious, however, is the notion that health-care reform wouldn’t have become a central rallying point for the Republicans—that the nightmare of the town halls of 2009 could have been avoided."
  • Clinton Might Have Pushed Harder  The Washington Post's Ezra Klein writes, "In the Obama White House, the 'cut-your-losses' position was held by Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod. They wanted Obama to pare back the effort, and they were overruled. They've got their analogues in Clintonland -- notably Mark Penn -- and we just don't know who would've won that fight. My hunch is the policy people, because the logic of the situation favored passing the bill, and Clinton wanted to pass a bill. But we'll never really know."
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