Edwards’ Healthcare Shift

Sep 17, 2007 4:25pm

ABC News’ Rick Klein Reports: Former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., has made universal health coverage a cornerstone of his presidential campaign, and has bragged about being the first 2008 candidate to offer his plan for universal coverage.

On Monday, Edwards hammered Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., for having failed to shepherd universal healthcare into law in the early 1990s.

"The cost of failure 14 years ago isn’t anybody’s scars or political fortune, it’s the millions of Americans who have now gone without health care for more than 14 years and the millions more still crushed by the costs," Edwards said.

"So I’m glad that, today, the architect of the 1993 plan has another care proposal — and if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I’m flattered."

But Edwards wasn’t always a fan of having the government provide universal health coverage. In 2003 and 2004, during his first campaign for president, he backed a far more modest proposal that was estimated to cover about half of those who lacked health insurance — and criticized rivals who had universal plans for what he portrayed as fiscal irresponsibility.

"What we ought to be doing is something that number one is achievable and number two is responsible," Edwards said in July 2003, in reference to then-rep. Richard Gephardt’s, D-Mo., universal healthcare plan, according to The Washington Post.

Late in the Democratic primary fight, when Edwards was trying to topple Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., he contrasted his plan with Kerry’s by pointing out that it was less expensive. He said at the time that his $53 billion healthcare plan would cover about 21 million people, including all children under age 21; Kerry’s plan was pitched as costing $72 billion, to cover 27 million people.

"We will be able to attract the support we need to get my plan actually done, so we don’t spend 15 or 20 years debating the issue," Edwards said in February 2004.

While Edwards ran in 2004 as a moderate, he has tacked leftward in his 2008 bid. His healthcare plan would cost roughly twice as much as the plan he put forward four years ago, with an estimated price tag of between $90 billion to $120 billion. He has said he would pay for the spending by rolling back tax cuts for the rich passed under President Bush’s tenure.

Eric Schultz, an Edwards spokesman, said the former senator decided that only a bold approach was possible after four more years of watching special interests stymie progress.

"The problems are now bigger, so the solutions must be bolder," Schultz said. "Now that the Clinton campaign’s plan is so similar to ours, the question is who is best prepared to actually get universal healthcare done."

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