Hillary Clinton: Health Care 'Deja Vu All Over Again'

It was one of the most spectacular defeats in legislative history — a 1,342-page disaster that became a symbol of arrogance and unwieldy bureaucracy, and contributed in large part to the Democrats' loss of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years.

But these days, Hillary Clinton isn't running away from the 1994 failure of her health care plan. She's wearing it as a badge of honor — joking that she's got "the scars to show for it.

"We set the groundwork in place, so that now, people are saying, 'boy, we wish we had done that back then,'" she told an audience at a health care forum in Carson City, Nev.

"It's really quite remarkable how Mrs. Clinton is turning the health care debacle of 1994 into an asset," said Norman Ornstein, a political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. "Hillary Clinton has two great things going for her on this issue. The first is, she knows it cold. The second is that she can say, 'I was for dramatic reform before any of the rest of you.'"

Her goal is still universal coverage, through a combination of private and public insurance. But, this time, her timing may be better.

In 1993, there were 39 million uninsured Americans. Today, there are 47 million. As the problem grows, the pressure on government to do something is intensifying.

"More and more people are being priced out of health care, employers are passing on deductibles and copays to their workers," said Ron Pollack of Families USA, a health care advocacy group.

According to a recent ABC News poll, health care is the second most important issue to Democratic voters, after Iraq. And most of the Democratic candidates now sound a lot like the former first lady, in their calls for universal health care.

But Clinton's health care record also makes her uniquely vulnerable to attacks, with her name still synonymous in Republican circles with a government takeover of the health care system.

"The last thing we need is Hillarycare," said Republican candidate Mitt Romney at a recent campaign stop. "The last thing we need is socialized medicine."

Clinton says she's learned valuable lessons about the need to build a consensus — working with Congress, the insurance industry, and other interested parties.

"You know, I feel a little bit like this is deja vu all over again," she joked at the Carson City forum.

Whether the outcome will be any different this time around remains to be seen.

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