The White House offered concessions Wednesday on the scope of
its health reforms, only hours after President Bill Clinton said he
would sign no bill that did not provide universal coverage.
Still hoarse from Tuesday night's State of the Union address,
the president canceled a speech Wednesday at a local school on
doctors' orders to recover his voice.
But his surrogates wasted no time making conciliatory sounds:
Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen told business leaders that
Clinton was willing to allow more big companies to run their own
insurance programs rather than being forced into the regional
alliances where most Americans would have to buy their insurance.
White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers said that, while
Clinton stands firm on universal coverage, the timetable for
achieving it is "something that has to be worked out."
The president met with House Democratic leaders to plan
strategy for the struggle over Clinton's health-care proposal and a
half-dozen competing bills. Emerging from that meeting, House
Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., said, "It's possible you will
have some kind of a phase-in" of universal coverage.
Bentsen acknowledged that big business has problems with
Clinton's proposal to force all companies with up to 5,000
employees into regional insurance-purchasing alliances.
"You think the 5,000-employee threshold . . . is too high," he
told the National Association of Manufacturers and a pension group.
"We hear you. We're willing to discuss this one and the other
details of our plan.
"We got the concept right, but the president couldn't have been
more clear when he said we're open for discussion on this as well
as other issues."
But Bentsen said he was troubled by suggestions that only
companies with 100 or fewer workers should be in the pools. That
would be too small to spread the risk around, he said.
Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and
Commerce Committee, said the timetable for achieving universal
coverage "is open to friendly negotiation with the president." The
Clinton bill would require all Americans to be covered by Jan. 1,
Other Democrats welcomed the stick Clinton raised over their
heads - his threat to veto a bill without universal coverage:
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., said at a news conference
that Clinton had added "some steel to our spine."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Labor
and Human Resources Committee, recalled that when his son, Teddy
Jr., was battling cancer, the senator met parents struggling to pay
huge medical bills for their own children. …