Sen. Hillary Clinton said Monday that President Bush's approach to health care, including in his spending and research priorities, has resulted in a "war that has been waged by this administration against science."
"It's not only in their budget priorities. I mean, think about it: The two priorities of this president have been the war in Iraq and tax cuts for the wealthy, neither of which he's paid for, while he has cut the budgets for the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute," Clinton said in an Iowa forum on cancer.
"At the same time, he has prevented a very strong majority in the Congress and the country from proceeding in an ethical way with stem cell research, which I think holds out promise for certain forms of cancer, and has muzzled government scientists, closed down government Web sites, refused to allow this country to continue, in our governmental capacity, this inquiry and this freedom of thought that has made this a great country for so many years," she said. "We have a lot of cleaning up to do when we finally say goodbye to the Bush-Cheney administration."
Four of the eight Democratic presidential candidates attended the forum sponsored by champion bicyclist Lance Armstrong, himself a cancer survivor. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio joined Clinton in calling for more money for cancer research. They all offered criticism for Bush for allowing political philosophy to dictate decisions on scientific research.
Clinton vowed to double spending on research over 10 years. Edwards called Bush the "most anti-science president in history."
"I think what's happened is, under President Bush, what's happened is there's been a conservative approach to these research grant requests," Edwards said. "But on top of that it's also conservative in another sense. It's conservative in that if you almost can't guarantee the result, then they don't fund it. ... So if you decide on the front end that you're going to be conservative in what research you fund, it's self-limiting. I mean, it's obvious that you're going to limit the possible beneficial effects of the research that's being done."
Edwards, whose wife Elizabeth announced earlier this year she had stage 4 cancer, added that he will take a back seat to no one in combating the disease.
Richardson noted that former President Nixon declared war on cancer more than 30 years ago, and he joined his rivals in suggesting that money being spent on the war in Iraq be diverted back home.
"We're not doing too well in that war," Richardson said. "This president wants a surge in the war in Iraq. I want a surge in the war on cancer."
On a separate issue, Clinton and Edwards also tussled over accepting campaign contributions from powerful health care groups.
Each candidate spoke separately at the Iowa event, with Edwards and Clinton focused on the ongoing debate among the party's top-tier rivals over accepting campaign donations from lobbyists.
Clinton has refused to forsake such donations. Edwards doesn't accept money directly from federal lobbyists, but he is not above benefiting from the broader lobbying community, accepting money from firms that have lobbying operations.
Clinton defended her decision to accept campaign contributions from health care groups, saying she has a long track record of fighting for national health care that demonstrates she's not influenced by special interest giving.
"My record shows I've been very effective in that," the New York senator said. "I believe in working with everybody and being influenced by nobody."
Edwards warned that powerful interest groups killed efforts to create universal health care when Clinton was first lady and spearheaded the effort of her husband's administration.
"I think the lesson from that, my lesson, is not the same as hers," Edwards said. "Her lesson is give them a seat the table. I think if you give the drug companies, insurance companies and their lobbyists a seat at the table, they'll eat all the food."
In the early 1990s, Clinton tried to reshape the nation's health care system — an audacious effort that collapsed under its own complexity, Republican opposition and the Clintons' unwillingness to seek compromise with lawmakers.
"I intend to do everything I possibly can to be the president who signed into law national health care," Clinton said Monday.
Meeting with reporters, Edwards sought to underscore the differences with his rival, who is now running even with him in Iowa polls. Clinton left immediately following her appearance at the cancer forum.
"There's a fundamental difference between Senator Clinton and myself about how we bring about the change we need," Edwards said. "We have to take their power away from them. I don't believe we can compromise with them."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.