Clinton Advisers Whack Obama Over Mailer

Supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton brought heavy artillery to a political knife fight over what they called a misleading mailer sent to voters days before Super Tuesday.

The gloves came off once again between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The two Democratic rivals are now sparring over competing health care plans just days ahead of the 24 primaries and caucuses on Feb. 5 that will likely decide the presidential nominee.

On Friday, millions of voters found their mailboxes stuffed with a glossy direct mail piece from Obama criticizing Clinton’s health care plan as forcing the uninsured to buy policies they cannot afford.

The mailer clobbers Clinton’s plan as “punishing families who can’t afford health care to begin with just doesn’t make sense,” reiterating a pull-quote criticism from a Dec. 21, 2007, article in the The Daily Iowan.

It contrasts the Illinois senator’s plan as less expensive, able to cover more people and capping health insurance company profits — always a liberal crowd pleaser.

Clinton advisers shot back fast and furious.

In a quickly arranged conference call on Friday afternoon for local media with Denver’s Diana DeGette, the Colorado lawmaker and Clinton health care policy adviser denounced the mailer as inaccurate and unfair.

“It is factually wrong because it asserts that lower income families will not be able to pay for insurance without pointing out that Sen. Clinton’s plan has a sliding scale and a cap on what low-income families would have to pay,” said DeGette. The congresswoman also noted that Clinton’s plan would not penalize low-income families despite the literature’s claims.

DeGette went on to criticize Obama’s proposal as not a truly comprehensive national health care plan because it does not require Americans to have insurance — a key component for driving down costs by broadening the risk pool. When healthier subgroups of people and those who can’t afford premiums forgo insurance over individuals with higher risk and greater health care needs, costs rise in the smaller, less diverse risk pool as the insurers’ expenses cannot be offset by premiums from healthier members.

DeGette expressed her disappointment that Obama would go negative, describing him and Clinton as “excellent candidates” who have vigorously debated the issues up to this point.

Clinton deputy economic director Brian Deese upped the ante by raising the specter of dirty politics by the Obama camp.

The mailer’s outside cover depicts a man and woman sitting at a kitchen table, presumably fretting over a stack of bills. Deese compared the “striking resemblance” of the couple to the now-famous “Harry and Louise” attack ad, produced by health insurance lobbyists, which was widely credited with defeating then-President Bill Clinton’s proposed health care plan that was led by the First Lady. The 1993 fight over health care was one of the biggest and most bruising political losses of Clinton’s presidency.

However, the Colorado conference call was positively tame compared to an earlier discussion held with national press.

Several reports quoted Len Nichols, a health care policy expert at the New America Foundation, likening the Obama mailer to “Nazis marching through Skokie, Illinois.”

The imagery evoked by Nichols could be perceived as nothing more than a ham-handed political firebomb from a senior policy adviser with the ear of an eager national press always gunning for yet another fight between the two candidates just days before a multistate vote.

Or could it have been a shrill, calculated but resonant note to fire up Clinton’s largely older voter base?

Both Clinton and Obama have deep roots in northern Illinois where controversy raged in the late 1970s when a group of Nazi sympathizers attempted to march through Skokie, a northern Chicago suburb and home to a large Jewish community.

Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson quickly disavowed Nichols’ remark.

Yet, the mailer’s direct attack struck an odd note for a candidate who has largely campaigned on a unity platform.

On Jan. 31, the day before the mailers hit households, the candidates were locked in a virtual lovefest at the CNN/Los Angeles Times/Politico debate where Obama claimed that their competing health care plans were 95 percent similar.

Obama’s Colorado campaign spokespeople declined to comment on the mailer or the Clinton’s camp criticism.

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