Clinton goes for bust on health care: President calls in Democratic leaders to prepare for tough battle on showpiece legislation

BARELY 12 hours after a State of the Union address setting out his vision of historic domestic reform, President Bill Clinton yesterday summoned Democratic leaders to work out tactics for what is sure to be an extraordinarily busy and contentious congressional session, featuring an especially fierce battle on the President's most cherished goal of health care reform.

By turns hectoring and inspirational - and sometimes downright Reaganesque - the President asked Congress to move fast and far on three issues that could become his legacy: a health care bill guaranteeing coverage for all; the biggest overhaul of the country's welfare system in 30 years; and measures to tackle both the symptoms and causes of the criminal violence which 'cripples our society'.

As expected, the widely acclaimed speech was devoted almost entirely to domestic concerns. Foreign and defence policy were a mere parenthesis between sections on health care and crime. But even by Mr Clinton's high rhetorical standards it was a tour de force.

For the first time he set a date, 'this spring', for introduction of the long-promised 'comprehensive' welfare reform bill. But health care remains the centrepiece of his plans. Responding to rival, less ambitious schemes circulating in Congress, Mr Clinton dramatically threatened to veto any measure which did not contain guaranteed universal coverage.

The assembled senators, congressmen and top government officials were reduced to unusual silence as Mr Clinton told them that on health care, 'the people are way ahead of the politicians'.

Whether he has to implement that threat depends less on anything the Republicans can do than on his ability to keep control of the often competing liberal and moderate wings of his own party.

But both Tuesday night's speech and its stage props were already part of the balancing act. By making plain that universal health coverage was non-negotiable, Mr Clinton delivered a large sop to liberals unhappy with the 'tough' crime bill the President wants and his hard-nosed approach to welfare - including the demand that after two years on welfare people who can work must once more do so.

As a sign of the administration's determination to mend fences with key union allies after the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) row, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organisations leader, Lane Kirkland, was seated in the distinguished visitors' gallery next to the First Lady, Hillary Clinton, chief architect of the health plan.

But rhetoric and symbolism on their own will not suffice. Pugnacious as ever, the Senate Republican leader, Bob Dole, declared yesterday that universal health care was in trouble 'because the President doesn't have the votes on the Democratic side'. This was a reference to moderate Democrats who want a more gradualist approach.

Leading article, page 21

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory