One Obama and Two Clintons Share a Stage

PHOTO: Barack Obama and Bill ClintonPlayJewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images
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Two Clintons, one Obama and a monumental task of selling the Affordable Care Act to a skeptical public.

It all played out at an event in midtown Manhattan this evening, with former President Bill Clinton moderating an unusual and at times wonky one-on-one discussion with President Obama about how the new health care law will work. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton introduced both men before they took the stage.

Clinton, whom Obama once dubbed the "Secretary of Explaining Things," asked leading questions of the president, who spoke at length about benefits of the law he said Americans will enjoy.

Both men sat facing each other in cushy white armchairs, holding hand-held microphones on a stage set up for an annual gathering of Clinton's foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative.

"So now what?" Clinton asked. "What are you going to do on Oct. 1? Tell them how this has got to work."

"Let me give folks just a little bit of background about what's already in place and then what happens on Oct. 1," Obama said launching into his pitch.

10 Things to Know About Health Insurance Exchanges

Nine minutes later, after narrating the history of the law and its stated purpose -- to protect consumers from oversize medical bills, add more people to insurance rolls, and drive down overall costs – Obama hit the point of his new messaging campaign: to convince more uninsured Americans to sign up for a health plan and pay for it out of their own pockets.

"What we now have set up are these marketplaces that provide high-quality health care at affordable prices, giving people choices so that they can get the health insurance that they need and they want, and the premiums are significantly lower than what they were able to previously get," Obama said.

Next week uninsured Americans can begin enrolling in bargain plans through online insurance exchanges created under the law.

"This only works ... if young people show up," Clinton said. "We've got to have them in the pools, because otherwise all these projected low costs cannot be held if older people with pre-existing conditions are disproportionately represented in any given state. You've got to have everybody lined up."

The Obama administration, with help from the president's outside advocacy group Organizing for Action and other Democratic allies, are mounting a major push to educate consumers on the law as open enrollment season for health insurance begins in six days.

Obama has an event scheduled in Maryland on Thursday to promote Obamacare, and also plans to hold a conference call with mayors and other civil leaders to enlist their help, the White House said.

First lady Michelle Obama is leading outreach to mothers and women's groups and veterans organizations, officials said. Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, is doing his part placing calls to key constituencies, including American nurses groups.

Today's conversation between President Obama and Bill Clinton unfolded as Republican Sen. Ted Cruz was blasting Obamacare from the floor of the Senate, trying to build momentum for an effort to defund and delay the law.

At one point, Obama appeared to take a swipe at Cruz, saying the Republican feared that once Americans become accustomed to elements of the law they won't want to give them up.

"One of the major opponents, when asked, well, why is it that you'd potentially shut down the government, at this point, just to block 'Obamacare,' he basically 'fessed up," Obama said, alluding to Cruz. "He said, well, once, you know, consumers get hooked on having health insurance and subsidies, then they won't want to give it up.

"So it is very important that people just know what's out there, what's available to them, and let people make up their own minds as to whether it makes sense or not," he said.

The two presidents weren't the only ones sharing the spotlight. Former Secretary of State Clinton, herself a prospective presidential nominee, introduced her husband and Obama before the discussion began, highlighting their common traits.

"They're both left-handed. They both love golf -- a game that does not often reciprocate the love they put into it. They both are fanatic sports fans and go to great lengths to be in front of the TV or on the side of the court or the field," she said. "They both are master politicians. Each of them has only lost one election.

"They have fabulous daughters. They each married far above themselves," she added with a grin, drawing hearty applause.

When Obama took the stage, he said in agreement.

"There's nothing she said that was not true," he said, "particularly the part about us marrying up."