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Clinton, Obama dial up the healthcare heat

Times Staff Writer

Rivals for the Democratic nomination Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama stepped up their sparring over differences in healthcare proposals Sunday during campaign stops in Iowa.

“There are big differences between me and Sen. Obama on healthcare,” Clinton said. “I have a healthcare plan that covers every single American. He does not. I have a healthcare plan that will leave no American out. He, by his own admission, leaves at least 15 million people out.”

The remarks, delivered during a question-and-answer session with reporters, were sharper than what Clinton has previously said on the subject and appear to be part of a new offensive directed at one of her main competitors for the presidential nomination. In Iowa, where the candidates face their first contest on Jan. 3, Obama, Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina are locked in a tight three-way race.

Obama argued against a requirement in Clinton’s proposal that people buy coverage, saying his plan has no such mandate.

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“There’s been a lot of talk about the different plans the candidates have proposed to create a universal healthcare system in this country,” Obama said in Des Moines. “But the reason Americans don’t have health insurance isn’t because they don’t want it, it’s because they can’t afford it, which is why my plan doesn’t have a mandate and goes further in cutting costs than any other proposal offered in this race.”

Clinton retorted that Obama has a mandate for children.

“It’s been kind of confusing following his description of his own plan,” Clinton said in her remarks to reporters, adding that Obama first said his plan would offer universal coverage and then said it wouldn’t.

But she was evasive when asked about how she would enforce the mandate in her own plan that all Americans must have healthcare.

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“There are a variety ways of doing it,” she said. “I’m going to negotiate with the Congress over that because different people in Congress have different approaches about how to do that.”

Edwards’ campaign, too, joined in the fray over healthcare with criticism of Obama.

“Any candidate touting their healthcare plan must first meet one simple test: Does it cover everyone?” said Eric Schultz, a spokesman for the Edwards campaign. “Sen. Obama’s plan falls woefully short by leaving 15 million Americans without care. In the midst of a healthcare crisis, anything short of universal is simply inadequate.”

On the campaign trail and in TV ads, Clinton has recently begun to take on Obama more aggressively.

When asked about the continued sparring with Obama, Clinton said: “I’m going to draw issue distinctions.”

The direct engagement of her rival comes less than six weeks before the Iowa contest, and some Clinton supporters liked the new, more forceful approach.

Kirk Tofte, a Democrat who heard Clinton speak Sunday at Perry High School, said he had been disappointed in 2004 by presidential nominee John F. Kerry’s response to Republican attacks and wanted more from his party’s nominee in 2008.

“He didn’t lift a glove,” Tofte said. “Bill and Hillary know the importance of not letting the opposition define you,” he said. “If she gets attacked, she won’t take it lying down.”

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louise.roug@latimes.com


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