President Obama faces tough rhetorical challenges in selling the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. Bill Clinton's 1993 speech on reform may help.
Bill Clinton criticized President Obama Tuesday for coming up short on his promise to let all Americans keep their health insurance. The statement has some Democrats wondering what Clinton is trying to do by undermining the president -- especially because Clinton, more than perhaps anyone, ought to be familiar with the challenges of American health care reform.
Whether or not Obama deliberately misled some Americans about keeping their coverage, the president's new task is to explain why junk insurance can't be allowed to persist. In 1993, when Bill Clinton made his big (and ultimately failed) push for health care reform, he had to deal with similar rhetorical problems. In an address to a joint session of Congress, Clinton explained why pooling coverage means that health insurance cost may rise for some.
"If you're a young, single person in your twenties and you're already insured, your rates may go up somewhat because you're going to go into a big pool with middle-aged people and older people, and we want to enable people to keep their insurance even when someone in their family gets sick," Clinton said. "But I think that's fair because when the young get older they will benefit from it, first, and secondly, even those who pay a little more today will benefit 4, 5, 6, 7 years from now by our bringing health care costs closer to inflation. Over the long run, we can all win."
As msnbc.com's Zachary Roth noted Wednesday, Clinton's fight to reform health care was eventually lost amid serious opposition from Republican collegues. And though President Obama was able to succeed where Clinton failed, the Affordable Care Act still faces constant GOP attacks and growing Democratic criticism as well. Clinton saying the "the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they got" only gives ammo to the other side.
"The vast majority of the Americans watching this tonight will pay the same or less for health care coverage that will be the same or better than the coverage they have tonight," Clinton assured constituents in 1993. "That is the central reality."
Even in the same online interview Tuesday where he criticized Obama, Clinton spelled out central reality of the Affordable Care Act as he saw it: "We're better off with this law than without it."
To watch Clinton's full speech to the joint session of Congress in 1993, check out the video below, courtesy of C-SPAN.