- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2007

President Bush ratcheted up his confrontation with Democratic leaders yesterday by laying out what he said is a stark ideological divide between a fiscally prudent, free market-loving Republican president and a Congress that aims to raise taxes and nationalize health care.

His remarks were part of a broader effort to seize the offensive against the Democrat-led Congress in a series of legislative battles involving budgetary matters and health care policy. Particularly aggressive in tone, the speech also had the appearance of throwing down a political gauntlet.

As part of his argument, Mr. Bush took a swipe at Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, despite promises to stay out of the political fray. In seeking to prove that Democrats really are working toward federalized health care as a replacement for the current private medical system, he criticized the unsuccessful effort led by Mrs. Clinton in the early 1990s to reshape U.S. health care and dramatically expand access.

Without mentioning Mrs. Clinton’s name, Mr. Bush set her up as a chief target by invoking the biggest failure of her past.

“We’ve tried by the way here in Washington to have a major effort to put the federal government square in the center of health care — in 1994 — and the legislation didn’t pass,” he said before the fall conference of the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Products Association.

“Believe me, the Democrats in Congress who supported that legislation have learned from the experience. So instead of pushing to federalize health care all at once, they’re pushing for the same goal through a series of incremental steps. With each step, they want to bring America closer to a nationalized system where the government dictates the medical coverage for every citizen.”

Many Democrats suspect the White House is trying to fire up the Republican electorate in the 2008 race by subtly bolstering the view of Mrs. Clinton, a controversial figure in their party, as a shoo-in on the Democratic side.

But White House press secretary Dana Perino said politics weren’t behind Mr. Bush’s speech. “I can assure you the president has no intention of getting involved in primary politics,” she said.

The main evidence Mr. Bush offered of Democratic ambitions on health care was an ongoing debate over expanding a children’s health insurance program, which provides coverage for 6 million children whose families make too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford private insurance.

Mr. Bush has proposed adding $5 billion to the program over five years. Democrats want to add $35 billion over the same period to cover a total of 10 million children by raising qualifying family incomes. The debate already has produced one bill and one veto from Mr. Bush, which Democrats failed to override in the House.

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