CHICAGO--Hillary Clinton is drawing sharper contrasts with chief rival Barack Obama as the crucial Jan. 3 Iowa vote looms closer, telling the Chicago Sun-Times Tuesday he is “trying to have it both ways” when it comes to covering the nation’s uninsured.
Health care is a central issue in the Democratic presidential primary, and Obama stands apart from Clinton and John Edwards, his major rivals, because his health plan does not mandate adults to obtain insurance.
All Democrats support universal coverage: the debate is over the value of mandates. Obama’s plan calls for mandating coverage for children and driving down the cost of insurance so adults who need it buy a policy.
“Once again he is trying to have it both ways. He is for a mandate, he is against a mandate. He is for universal coverage, he is against universal coverage,” Clinton said in a phone interview from South Carolina.
“It is frustrating to people who care deeply about this issue because we have a chance to finally do this.” Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said, “Two weeks ago, Sen. Clinton said she wouldn’t attack fellow Democrats. But her poll numbers have dropped, so the Washington political textbook dictates that she attack the candidate who’s on the move.”
“Now it is an attack a day,” said Obama chief strategist David Axelrod.
How to enforce a mandate?
To buttress her point, Clinton noted that an Illinois health care task force Obama helped create when he was a state senator called for a system where people would be required to obtain health insurance. “And one of the things that he takes credit for as a state senator is a health care task force to look into the question, how do you provide universal health care in Illinois?
“Well, they came back with their report earlier this year and it is very clear; if you want universal health care, you need to have a mandate.” Clinton added, “so it is puzzling to me that he is out criticizing the idea of a mandate when his own task force said it was the only way to get there.”
The “Adequate Health Care Task Force” did urge a plan where “all Illinois residents will be required to obtain health care coverage.”
However, the 216-page report was not completed until Jan. 26, 2007, years after Obama left for the U.S. Senate.
The task force suggested the insurance requirement be enforced by applying state income tax penalties on the willfully uninsured. A plan (stalled in the Illinois legislature) crafted by Gov. Blagojevich earlier this year did not include the mandates the task force proposed.
Obama has accused Clinton of dodging giving an answer as to how she would enforce her mandates. Obama proposes parents be forced to show proof of insurance — just like they have to do for shots — in order to enroll their children in schools.
Clinton told the Sun-Times several ways she would enforce a health insurance law: “You could have default enrollment, you could have a system set up for people at schools, workplaces and other settings would be automatically enrolled in health care. You can look for incentives and advantages that people will bear in their insurance once they do sign up.”
The Clinton interview, offered by the campaign, came in advance of her return to her native city on Dec. 18 for two major fund-raisers, expected to yield about $1 million. Clinton said she would run a "competitive" campaign in Illinois.