Bill Clinton Touts Hillary's Health Plan

Former President Bill Clinton campaigns for his wife, democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., at the Stock Pavilion on the University of Wisconsin-Madison Thursday, Feb. 14, 2008, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
Former President Clinton said Democratic voters who support Barack Obama over his wife are missing out on an opportunity to back a universal health care system for the nation.

"It would be truly tragic if the Democratic Party walked away from universal health care for the first time in 60 years when we finally got the business community and the medical community in line behind us," Clinton said Friday during a campaign swing through East Texas in advance of the state's March 4 primary.

New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's health plan would require everyone to have health insurance and would provide government assistance to people who can't afford it. Obama, an Illinois senator, has proposed government subsidies to help people buy insurance, but doesn't mandate that they purchase it. Her campaign says Obama's plan would leave up to 15 million people without insurance.

"Her opponent excites more Americans ... but would in fact deny us universal health care coverage for the first time," the former president told about 200 people in a gymnasium of a Texarkana community center. "She represents the solution business."

Obama's plan would have the government help people get health insurance who couldn't otherwise afford it, but would not require health insurance, as Hillary Clinton would.

Obama supporters said in a conference call with reporters that mandates were not the solution and would make it harder to garner consensus in Washington.

"The lack of government coercion isn't the problem," said Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., noting that Obama wants to "go light" on government influence in his health care proposal.

Former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000, said overcoming the large special interests who oppose such health-care plans is the real hurdle.

"You have to trump the interest in Washington, and (Obama) is the only candidate who I believe can do that," Bradley said. He said Obama "comes to the issue increasingly as someone who has a very powerful mandate behind him."

In Texas, the former president also touched on the war in Iraq, saying indecision by the Iraqi government forces the U.S. to keep its combat troops there.

"If they think we are going to stay there forever and a day, they have no incentive to fix them," Clinton said. "If we stay there, we are not doing them any favors."

The event marked Clinton's second campaign stop in a month to this city straddling the state line between Arkansas and Texas. The former president visited the Arkansas side of the city Feb. 1, just before that state - where he was governor for 16 years - voted in the Super Tuesday primaries.

Senator Clinton is looking for big wins in delegate-rich Texas and Ohio on March 4 to help close the gap with Obama. As of Thursday, an Associated Press count showed Obama maintained a slender lead with 1,276 delegates compared to Clinton's 1,220.

"If she wins in Texas and Ohio, she will win the nomination," Bill Clinton said.