How the Clintons ‘got slaughtered’ on health care

Hillary Clinton oversees hospitality at the White House in 1994. Picture: Getty
Hillary Clinton oversees hospitality at the White House in 1994. Picture: Getty
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THE United States National Archives have released 7,500 pages of documents from former Bill Clinton’s administration, including those charting the president’s desperate attempts to push through a universal health care bill in a country where tens of millions struggle to afford medical treatment.

The records will cover a wide range of topics, including former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s role in health care reform, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and foreign policy involving Iran, the Middle East, and Rwanda, where it is now widely regarded that a failure by the international community to act allowed a savage genocide to take place.

Clinton has previously talked of his regret over the murder of 800,000 Rwandans, largely Tutsis, saying: “I do feel a lifetime responsibility.”

Other topics will include papers from presidential speechwriters, records related to former President Richard Nixon, director Steven Spielberg and talk show host Oprah Winfrey.

The records are being closely watched as Hillary Rodham Clinton considers a second presidential campaign in 2016.

The documents concerning Clinton’s doomed health care efforts – which contrast sharply with President Barack Obama’s successful passage in 2010 of a law overhauling health insurance – show how the former president’s team, led by Hillary, tried to build support for the legislation before the 1994 mid-term congressional elections.

But the bill never even made it to a vote in the full House. It died in a House of Representatives committee and Democrats were routed in the mid-term elections, losing control of both chambers of Congress and leaving Clinton with little power to get future bills passed.

One memo read: “We got slaughtered.”

It took the Democrats 20 years to revisit the plans, and Obama’s Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, remains contentious. Republicans have repeatedly tried to repeal the law, which only Democrats voted for, and the issue is expected to blow up again at November’s mid-term elections.

Back in 1993, a Clinton administration strategy memo argued the plan would require support from enough conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans – eight in the Senate and 15 in the House – without alienating too many liberal Democrats.

But the Clintons never managed to muster the necessary support. Preparing for an August 1994 news conference, President Clinton discussed the teetering health care overhaul at length. “A lot of them want to know they can keep their own plan if they like it,” the president told his aides.

That point would be heard again, years later.

After Republicans swept to victory in the 1994 mid-terms the mood at the White House was sour.

“We got slaughtered,” wrote communications aide David Dreyer in November 1994. “Event of historic proportions. Worse bloodbath since 1922 in the Harding administration, but even he didn’t lose control of both chambers.”

Other Clinton era records depict tensions between Clinton and Vice President Al Gore in the years before Gore ran for the presidency himself.

“I am trying to knock down the idea that the Clinton White House’s support for Gore is based on legacy notions and build up the idea that it is based on respect, relationships and in-the-foxhole camaraderie,” Ron Klain, Gore’s chief of staff, wrote. “This anecdote rebuts the charge that Gore lacks a Clinton-type feel for political rhetoric.”

Adding that Gore had been tireless in promoting environment, science and technology issues, Klain added: “Gore was Mr Faithful in pushing these concerns.”