- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 10, 2008

PITTSBURGH (AP) | Democrats shaped a set of principles Saturday that commits the party to guaranteed health care for all, heading off a potentially divisive debate and edging the party closer to the position of presumptive nominee Sen. Barack Obama’s defeated rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The party’s 186-member platform committee moved smoothly through a range of issues for the fall campaign and approved a document that will go to the Democratic convention in Denver later this month for adoption.

There was little dissent — or room for it — in the day’s meeting and a compromise on health policy took one flash-point off the table, though it also made a change on abortion.

In the primary campaign, Mr. Obama stopped short of proposing to mandate health coverage for all, aiming instead to make insurance more affordable and helping struggling families pay for it.

Advisers to Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton both told the party’s platform meeting they were happy with the compromise, adopted without opposition or without explanation as to how health care would be guaranteed.

In return for the guarantee, activists dropped a tougher platform amendment seeking a government-run, single-payer system and another amendment explicitly holding out Mrs. Clinton’s plan as the one to follow.

The party now declares itself “united behind a commitment that every American man, woman and child be guaranteed to have affordable, comprehensive health care.”

Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean praised “the spirit of this compromise.” Judith McHale, a Clinton supporter who helped to lead the platform meeting, said Obama and Clinton advisers worked collegially throughout the process.

Democrats typically have a strong pro-choice plank on abortion; this year’s version is stronger than usual. “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right,” it says.

Gone is the phrase from the past that abortions should be “rare” as well as safe and legal.

Party platforms are a statement of principles that are not binding on the candidates or the next president and they are typically given little attention after they are adopted. Even so, the party’s decision to embrace guaranteed health care is bound to become a leading yardstick by which an Obama presidency will be measured if he wins in November.

On Iraq, the platform states that Democrats “expect to complete redeployment within 16 months,” reflecting Mr. Obama’s time frame but not the tone of certainty he brought to it when he was running in the primaries.

On trade, it promises a multilateral approach to improving the North American Free Trade Agreement, without saying specifically what those changes should be.

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