From mistakes, Clinton has learned, adjusted
She stresses her experience, especially as first lady, as her chief qualification to be president. Her career includes both accomplishments and missteps.
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Behind the scenes, Clinton also threw her weight behind a plan to provide health coverage for children of working parents who did not qualify for Medicaid but could not afford private insurance. The program now known as S-CHIP – the State Children's Health Insurance Program – was signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1997 and today covers 10 million children.Skip to next paragraph
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In her presidential bid, Clinton has touted S-CHIP as one of her signal achievements as first lady, though not without pushback. After it was discovered that she had embellished a story about a visit to Bosnia in 1996, the veracity of all her campaign claims has been called into question. In the case of S-CHIP, Clinton came out on top, despite recent press comments by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, an Obama supporter, and other senators that she had little to do with the legislation. Curiously, in her own memoirs, S-CHIP merits only two sentences. But on balance, concludes the nonpartisan Factcheck.org, Clinton "deserves plenty of credit, both for the passage of the S-CHIP legislation and for pushing outreach efforts to translate the law into reality."
Chris Jennings, health policy coordinator for the Clinton White House, says Clinton was by far the strongest advocate within the administration on children's health policy, and that it took a lot of people – the first lady, Senator Kennedy, other members of Congress – to get the reform through.
"She was sensitive to the political dynamics" post-healthcare reform, says Mr. Jennings, now an informal adviser to her campaign. "She cared more about outcomes than about credit."
Learning the price of compromise
By the end of Bill Clinton's first term, Hillary had learned a second important lesson about life in Washington: The compromises required in passing major legislation can turn an idealist into a pragmatist – and exact a big personal cost. The issue was welfare reform, and for the first lady, more than two decades of advocacy for children ran into the political reality that the new system could allow some children to fall through the cracks.
By the 1990s, the nation was ready for change. The old welfare system from the 1930s had evolved into one that encouraged government dependence. The question was, would the new system and its five-year lifetime limit provide enough supports to help people – typically, low-skilled single mothers – move successfully from welfare to work?
In her memoirs, Clinton calls the legislation "far from perfect" but justifies backing her husband's decision to sign it by citing "pragmatic politics." The year was 1996, and President Clinton faced a Republican-controlled Congress with an activist House speaker, Newt Gingrich, at the helm. The president had vetoed the first two versions of reform, and if he vetoed the third, the first lady felt he would be handing the Republicans a "potential political windfall."