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Clinton, Harkin Boost Health Care, Disdain Tax Hike

October 5, 1991

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ Two Democratic presidential candidates on Saturday pushed for improving health care, but both said higher taxes are not the solution.

″This is not a problem which you solve with tax and spend, with taxing more money,″ said Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, who formally joined the race Thursday.

″We’re spending $700 billion a year on health care, and we don’t need to spend a nickel more,″ said Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin. ″We don’t need to tax people more, we just need to shift the focus.″

At a health care meeting sponsored by the Iowa Democratic Party, Harkin and Clinton declared that health care would head the list of domestic issues they would push as they seek to move the political focus from foreign policy to domestic issues.

Both took pains to avoid the big-spending label that’s hurt Democrats in past elections.

Clinton said he would pay for better health coverage by moving to control health care costs. Harkin said he would shift money within the budget.

Clinton conceded there may be ″some extra revenue″ to be found but discounted that as part of a health care solution.

″We need to shift our focus into preventative health care and keeping people healthy in the first place,″ Harkin said. ″It will save us a lot of money. We’re not moving in that direction. We just need to spend our money smarter.″

Since he announced his candidacy last month, Harkin has been espousing a hard-line liberal stance; Clinton has taken a more moderate approach. Like all of the Democrats seeking the nomination, they want to move attention away from foreign policy issues, where President Bush is seen as strong, toward domestic questions.

Almost all the Democrats list better health care as one of the major issues they want to use in making the shift. However, differences are emerging between Democrats as they flesh out the issue.

Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey has proposed tax increases to fund his health care proposal, saying voters care deeply about better care and are willing to pay more for it.

Clinton and Harkin differed, though neither criticized Kerrey directly.

″We are already spending 30 percent more than any country in the world,″ Clinton said. ″We have to do something to get rid of the excess costs of the system first.″

Harkin argued for scrapping what he called ″that bogus budget agreement″ negotiated by Bush and congressional leaders last year, saying it limits the ability to shift money within the budget.

″I’m willing to stick out my neck and take the lead on it,″ Harkin said.

Health care raises delicate questions for Democrats, mainly because of the huge costs of expanding care. In past elections, Republicans have successfully attacked on the tax increase issue.

Clinton said things have changed.

″I think that the people are going to be much more sophisticated this time,″ said Clinton. ″Bush got elected on ‘read my lips’ and ’the other guy’s a bum.‴

Harkin has been in Congress for 17 years, but he turned his attack also on that body’s refusal to enact national heath care.

Members of Congress get free health care, and ″they love it,″ he said. ″But they won’t vote for it for you.″

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