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April 18, 2014

Documents: Clinton sought GOP support for health care

WASHINGTON — Thousands of pages of documents from President Bill Clinton's White House affirm a longtime adage: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

As Clinton prepared for an August 1994 news conference in which he hoped to build public support for his struggling — and ultimately unsuccessful — health care overhaul, he told his advisers: "A lot of them want to know they can keep their own plan if they like it." Later that fall, Clinton's Democrats were routed in midterm elections and lost control of Congress.

Nearly two decades later, President Barack Obama sought to reassure Americans about his own plan, which won approval in Congress in 2010, by telling them, "If you like your plan you can keep it." A spate of private policy cancellations forced Obama to recant his pledge that all Americans who liked their plans could simply keep them.

More than 8 million people have signed up for health insurance under the "Obamacare" law; how the overhaul is perceived could become a deciding point for the fate of Obama's fellow Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections.

About 7,500 pages of records released Friday through the National Archives and the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark., show the parallels between the Clinton era and the White House under Obama. The documents may also offer a glimpse into a future as former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who led her husband's health care task force, considers another presidential campaign in 2016.

In 1993, Clinton's advisers estimated that passing the health care bill would require a delicate balance of Democratic and Republican support, needing at least eight moderate Republicans in the Senate and 15 to 20 in the House to win approval.

A strategy memo argued the plan would require support from enough conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans without alienating too many liberal Democrats. But the bill never cleared a House committee.

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