Father's health sharpens focus for first lady She returns to health-reform task

April 07, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

AUSTIN, Texas -- Emerging from an 18-day vigil at the bedside of her seriously ill father, an impassioned Hillary Rodham Clinton cast the need for health-care reform in extraordinarily personal terms.

Clearly drawing on her own experience, the first lady promised a comprehensive reform agenda that will seek to cope with such profound questions as when life begins and ends -- and who should make those decisions.

"These are not issues that we have guidebooks about," the first lady said, speaking yesterday to nearly 14,000 people at a University of Texas arena.

"They are issues that we have to summon up what we believe is morally and ethically and spiritually correct, and do the best we can with God's guidance," said Mrs. Clinton, who rushed to a Little Rock, Ark., hospital on March 19 to be with her father, Hugh Rodham, 82, after he suffered a massive stroke.

Since then, many in the nation's health-care industry have speculated about how her personal experience would affect her views as she works to reform the nation's health-care agenda.

In her remarks, Mrs. Clinton left little doubt that her own family crisis has transformed what has been a public policy issue into one with a deeply personal meaning. Although she never mentioned her father directly, her comments marked the first time the first lady has discussed the need for health-care reform in such terms. Mrs. Clinton's aides have said privately that her father's chances of recovery are not good.

She also confirmed that the previous May 3 deadline for unveiling the reform agenda will not be met.

"Certainly, as long as it's finished in May, I think the president will be satisfied," said Mrs. Clinton, who chairs the Cabinet-level White House Task Force on National Health Care Reform.

She also said that all the pending budget-deficit reduction efforts will be for naught unless comprehensive health-care reform is enacted by Congress.

"Dealing with health care is not just a human imperative," she said. "It is a budgetary necessity -- not just for the federal government . . . but for every state government, for most county governments and, equally important, for most businesses and households in this country."

Even cutting the deficit "by the approximate $500 billion that's now projected over the next four or five years will not be sufficient unless we gain control over the exploding health-care costs. . ." Unless they are contained, the deficit will rise to the extent that it wipes out gains under the Clinton economic plan, she said.

As she has on many previous occasions, Mrs. Clinton said the road to reform will not be easy, given the inevitable opposition from special interest groups.

"It'll be absolutely very difficult," she said.

Later, Mrs. Clinton said resolutely: "Every single interest will have to give up something."

The first lady appeared here as this year's featured speaker at the university's annual Liz Carpenter Distinguished Lectureship, which honors a former press secretary to Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson, widow of the president.

Mrs. Clinton focused much of her address on what she called "a crisis of meaning" and "a spiritual vacuum" in American life. She urged every citizen to take personal responsibility in helping restore a "civil society."

Most of her comments about health-care reform came during a post-lecture panel discussion moderated by television commentator Bill Moyers.

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