Clinton To Senate Democrats: Whatever You Do, Don’t Lose

November 10, 2009 9:40 a.m.

After an hour-long lunch with the Senate Democratic caucus, former President Bill Clinton found himself surrounded by dozens of reporters, and summarized his message as one of the urgency of action. “The worst thing to do is nothing,” Clinton said of the party’s health care reform push. “We can do so much better.”

As they emerged from the lunch one by one, a number of senators echoed this rendering.

“His message was very simply it is so important that this be done, that there are so many people, I think 30 percent of the population he said at one point or another, don’t have any health care coverage,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told TPMDC, “and so the ability to fix the problem is really upon us.”

“He made clear that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she added, noting that Clinton did not directly address the politically divisive policy aspects of reform–abortion, the public option–in his presentation.

To members who are facing tough re-election races next year (such as fellow Arkansas native Blanche Lincoln) Clinton’s message was equally simple: “You’re going to do it, and then people are going to begin to see that none of the bad things that people are talking about will come to pass, essentially,” Feinstein said.Conservative Democrat Ben Nelson didn’t necessarily agree. “Failure could be passing a bad bill,” Nelson told TPMDC. “I think it’s important that we try to put together the best bill that’s possible, and see what it consists of and then I can make a decision whether I’ll support it or not.”

“I think he made a good point about good governance are the best politics. A good bill will be good politics,” Nelson added.

But what about an imperfect bill? Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) told TPMDC Clinton warned the conference not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. “Recognize that you’re going to have to deal with an imperfect situation and take this as the guideline–as a start–with an understanding that if you look back at history, that the laws that were written were not always–that were not perfect had opportunities to be fixed along the was.”

Lautenberg added that Clinton is “encouraging the passage of the bill,” and telling Democrats “not forget that [Congress will] have a chance to amend these things as time passes.”

Clinton also touched on other issues, including education and energy, all with the explicit understanding that Democrats can and must also succeed at creating jobs and healing the economy with the reforms they pass.

“The main message as I heard it was pass a bill for all the reasons that we could articulate on health care but also, and importantly, pass a bill to help the economy, long term especially, in terms of debt, and in terms of being able to have businesses be competitive,” both domestically and internationally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) told TPMDC.

“He talked about health care and he talked about energy,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). “Above and beyond health care, one of the points that he made is that we can substantially grow the economy and create decent paying jobs if we tackle the energy issue and transform our energy system.”

“His feeling was that, from a public policy and a political point of view, the American people want us to pass health care,” Sanders said.

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