Published February 22, 2010
This political season feels a "little bit" like 1994, former President Bill Clinton said Monday, comparing President Obama'a struggle to pass health care reforms to his own.
But the former president declined to describe the Democratic Congress' efforts this past year as an "overreach."
Speaking to Fox News in an exclusive interview, Clinton said he didn't think Democrats will lose control Congress this year, as they did after his failed effort to create a nationalized health care system in 1993, because Democrats "in effect got more advanced notice" of the anger that is brewing over the debate.
"They have a lot of advanced notice now. I think the biggest problem that the president's got is that the lifetime -- it's the -- the danger that people who want health care will be disappointed and stay home; that happened to me," he said.
Clinton added that the National Rifle Association also played a bigger role than it's credited in turning over Congress during the 1994 Republican revolution.
"They were mad about this whole weapons ban and the Brady Bill, and they probably took 15 of our House members out. That was their number, they said between 15 and 20, and I'd say, at least on the low side, they were right," he said.
But the president also warned that Congress has an added burden this midterm election year -- an economy that is recovering much more slowly than it did when his administration was digging out of a recession.
"It takes time for the economy to really pick up again. And that's certainly true here because it went down so low. But I think this year if a lot of this stimulus money that hasn't been spent, particularly on roads and bridges and water and sewer and the energy projects, if the rest of it goes through the pipeline, we may see a real employment pickup this year," he said.
Clinton said he thought Congress would've gotten the president's signature issue done by now, especially since "the trends that prompted me to act are worse" now than they were in 1993, including an annual gross domestic product that spends 17.2 percent on health care, more than any other nation.
"The Senate and the House should have reached a grand center and set about implementing it so that all the fears that were raised could either be disproved or if they turned out to make a mistake, they'd have time to start correcting them," he said.
Clinton said the cost of health care is giving other nations a trillion dollar "spot" ahead of the United States.
In his first interview since having a heart procedure to insert two stents, the 42nd president, who survived an impeachment trial, said he is sorry that the Whitewater investigation happened, but he has no sympathy for independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr.
Clinton said Starr's pursuit of witnesses against him was "unforgivable" but he's at fault for not realizing the political gamesmanship that he said Republicans played to try to toss him out in the 1996 election.
"They were desperate to find anything. I made a mistake, they tried to legalize it. What I did was wrong and I said it was wrong. Being evasive to them I thought was the only thing I could do at the time, but I regret very much the underlying misconduct which caused it," he said.
"I trusted the justice system and I trusted the press to cover it right, and I didn't realize what the real game was. I was my fault as much as anything else for agreeing to be investigated, but I knew I hadn't done anything wrong. And so they just kept it going on and on and on. It was a nightmare. And I think, as a result of it, we'll never have it again," Clinton added.
Clinton, along with President George W. Bush, was named by President Obama to lead America's fundraising effort to help the country rebuild after January’s devastating earthquake. He said the fund has raised $28 million so far for immediate and medium-term needs.
Clinton said Americans should not be discouraged about adopting Haitian orphans by the recent imprisonment of Americans trying to take Haitian children out of that country.
He also noted that 300,000 orphans lived in Haiti before the earthquake, and the recent case of American missionaries taking some children out of the country without proper papers was not a case of child trafficking.
"These kids, apparently most of them, did have close relatives who didn't feel they could support them," he said. "But the Haitian government, understandably, doesn't want Haiti, because it's poor, to come up a haven for child trafficking, so they're super-sensitive to it. It looks like the judge made the right decision releasing 10 of those people who seem to be completely innocent and were actually over there on a church mission doing what they thought was right."
The president said he is very excited to walk his own daughter, Chelsea, down the aisle when she marries Marc Mezvinsky this summer.
"All I'm supposed to do is walk her down the aisle -- and pay for the wedding, of course -- and that will be one of the great honors of my life. I -- I'm looking forward to it. And you know, I wouldn't mind being a grandparent and her mother really wants to be a grandparent," he said.