Bill Clinton is counting backward these days. At 65, he says, he has already lived longer than any of his male forebears going back three generations. He has attempted to use this argument with his daughter, he says, hoping to induce Chelsea into getting on the grandbaby express train. Chelsea gives her father an equally persuasive counterargument: if she waits until she’s 50 to produce an heir, her father will just have to live until he’s 83.
“The chances of having a grandchild stand in inverse proportion to how much you talk about it,” Bill Clinton says.
A group of us heard this family vignette from the former president at a Park Avenue fundraiser this week for Rep. Louise Slaughter. The upstate New York congresswoman, who broke her femur in April, won’t be able to get out of a wheelchair until fall to campaign in a tough fight following redistricting. Bill Clinton came to her rescue.
Clinton is perceptibly shorter now, and much leaner, but the charisma is all the more concentrated. The shrewdest mind to occupy the Oval Office in our lifetime still has one of the most impressive hard drives around. What Clinton talks about nonstop these days is the presidential election. And given his new perspective as a bona fide senior, you could be excused for thinking he is running for reelection.
The key question of the presidential election, he says, is, which of these candidates is likely to bring America back into shared prosperity? And as the nation awaits a Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare, the former president gave his take on what an adverse ruling would mean.
In the 51 years since President Kennedy took the oath of office, Republicans have had 28 years in the White house; Democrats have had 23. In the same half century, the economy has produced 66 million private-sector jobs—42 million of them under the Democrats, 24 million under the Republicans. “No one states these facts,” Clinton asserts.
“When President Obama took office, it was four months after we suffered the biggest financial crash since the Great Depression,” he says. “The depth of it continued to persist through the first six or seven months of the president’s term.
“Then he passed his legislation, and it began to have an effect. In the last three or four months, the private sector has produced 4.3 million new jobs. That is 40 percent more than the 2.6 million jobs produced by the private sector in the seven years of the Bush administration before the financial meltdown. That’s another relevant fact that hardly anybody knows.”
By Clinton math, Republicans’ score on job creation since they were given control of the House is negative by 670,000 people. “They refused to back the president in his support for state and local government, and that has allowed 670,000 teachers, police officers, firefighters, and others to be laid off,” Clinton asserts. “If they had supported the president, the unemployment rate would be 7.3 percent instead of the current 8-plus percent.”
If the Supreme Court decides to invalidate the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, there will be consequences, Clinton said, which he claims aren’t being reported, and which he spelled out:
• Changing the health-care delivery system has already produced two years in a row of 4 percent inflation in health-care costs. This is the first time in 50 years that health-care costs have gone up so little. Killing the Affordable Care Act would let inflation loose again.
• Some 2.6 million people ages 21 to 26, who now have insurance coverage for the first time because they can be carried under their parents’ policy, would lose it.
• $1.3 billion dollars in insurance refunds have already been paid to businesses and individuals because now the law says 85 percent of your premium has to go to health care and not to profits and promotion. (California hasn’t reported yet, but will likely increase that figure to more than $1.5 billion.) Refunds would shrink.
• If Republicans succeed in persuading the Supreme Court to repeal the individual mandate, somewhere between 12 million and 16 million Americans will be unable to get health insurance because of preexisting conditions.
Clinton predicted that if the law is declared unconstitutional, Republicans will suffer a backlash when millions of Americans calculate what they have lost. Before the Affordable Care Act passed, two thirds of all the applications for bankruptcy were because of health-care emergencies, a consequence likely to return if health care inflation again rises precipitously.
Clinton drew laughter with anecdotes about individual mandates that go back to the founding of the nation. In 1797, when John Adams was president, he signed a bill that required all seamen to be covered by hospitalization insurance through their employer.
None other than President George Washington signed a bill that required employers to provide hospitalization insurance for sailors. Another of the soldier president’s individual mandates would tickle Republicans today: every free male person between ages 18 and 44 had to keep a musket, a bayonet, and ammunition in his home. Even Quakers were denied exemption.
Before Mitt Romney as governor signed the individual mandate, Massachusetts had the highest health-care costs in America. Today, that state is seventh, because inflation in health-care costs in that state have been much lower than in the country as a whole. Why? The mandate prevents insurance companies from shifting their promotional costs to consumers, Clinton said.
After his remarks, Obama’s chief campaign surrogate lightened up and laughed with a few of us about his senior status. I reminded Clinton that 20 years ago I had asked if he expected to see the day when his wife would be president. At the time, he belted out a family cheer: “Eight years of Bill, eight years of Hill!”
Was he still cheering her on to run for president?
He gave the demure smile of a husband who dares not speak the obvious. “It’s the same answer I give about my daughter’s decision on having children.”
The chances of Hillary running stand in inverse proportion to how much the First Husband-in-Waiting talks it up.