LAS VEGAS—Hillary Clinton’s rejection of cuts to Social Security and Medicare ranks high on the list of issues on which she’s moved to Bill Clinton’s left. But learning from her husband’s willingness to challenge Democrats on entitlement reform may be the key to advancing her own agenda if she wins the White House.
The lesson is embedded in the 1997 budget deal that Bill Clinton reached with a GOP Congress—an agreement that created the Children’s Health Insurance Program that Hillary Clinton often cites to show she will work across party lines. In that deal, Bill Clinton linked new spending on kids not to additional taxes, but to savings in entitlements for seniors. With that maneuver, Bill Clinton subtly shifted the debate away from increasing or shrinking spending toward recalibrating the way the budget balanced the needs of contrasting generations. A similar reframing may offer Hillary Clinton her best chance to avoid stalemate if, as it appears now, Republicans retain their House majority even if Clinton takes the White House and Democrats recapture the Senate.
The S-CHIP program, which provided health insurance to children in working-poor families, tracks the central thrust in Hillary Clinton’s domestic agenda. In the campaign, Clinton has proposed to invest in kids at all stages of their development: from grants to states to create universal access to pre-school; to expanded tax benefits for families (especially very low-income ones) with children; new subsidies to help parents afford child-care; and, as the capstone, free tuition at public colleges and universities, eventually for all families earning less than $125,000 annually. It’s a comprehensive, integrated plan for equipping more of America’s increasingly diverse future workforce with the skills to reach the middle class.