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First Lady Says Health Plan Account for Disasters

October 1, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Rest easy, California. You can take it from Hillary Rodham Clinton: if an earthquake hits with a plague on its heels, the Clinton health plan still has got you covered.

The first lady saved that news for the last of her appearances this week before five congressional committees.

Twelve hours of testimony, tens of thousands of words, mind-numbing detail about a bill that nobody’s actually seen yet.

She was the biggest thing to hit Capitol Hill since, well, the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings.

And unlike that rancorous episode, many lawmakers said Mrs. Clinton’s solo turns at their witness tables gave government a good name.

She revealed few new details, apart from acknowledging that one American in eight would pay more for the same coverage.

But there were lots of tidbits, including a Doomsday scenario.

The first lady assured Sen. David Boren, D-Okla., that the White House had sought to plan for every eventuality in figuring out how much universal coverage would cost.

″We have tried to run through all kinds of scenarios. What will happen if there’s an earthquake in California followed by a plague?″ she said. ″We’ve tried to make sure that we have sufficient dollars allocated for that.″


Mrs. Clinton fielded questions from nearly 150 members of the House and Senate. Lawmakers who normally zip in and out of hearings stayed glued to their seats. Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, waited almost three hours at one session for his turn to question her.

Rep. Bill Ford, D-Mich., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, asked Mrs. Clinton what he could tell thousands of auto workers facing a new round of layoffs.

″You can go home and tell all those wonderful people that I’ve met in your district ... that this plan will guarantee them health security″ even if they lose their jobs, she said.

A grateful Ford replied, ″That is a better message for me to take home than all the pork I could get in an appropriations bill around here.″


Mrs. Clinton endeared herself to Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., who prides himself on ″making the trains run on time″ at the House Ways and Means Committee, by showing up early and trimming her answers to fit within his strict two-minute time limit.

Rostenkowski occasionally tapped the handle of his gavel to speed her and her interlocutors along if they ignored lights that switched from green to yellow to red.

Before the Senate Finance Committee, she was in the middle of a long reply to Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., when the red light came on.

″I know my time is up, but let me just try to briefly answer your second question,″ the first lady said hurriedly.

Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., the chairman, gallantly interrupted: ″Mrs. Clinton, may I say, Sen. Rockefeller’s time is up. Your time is never up.″


Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, had a reading tip for the first lady.

Best-selling author Robin Cook has a new thriller coming out soon about ″the horrors and the nightmares of global budgeting and government management of health care,″ said Hatch. ″We’ll all want to read it.″


Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., picked up Mrs. Clinton’s support for his idea of slapping stiff taxes on ″purveyors of violence:″ a 25 percent sales tax on guns and $2,500 license fees for gun dealers.

″Speaking personally ... I’m all for that,″ said the first lady. But she stressed she was just speaking for herself.

″Well, let me say that there is no more important personal endorsement in the country today, and I thank you very much,″ said a pleased-as-punch Bradley.


Finally, after three hours, Moynihan asked, ″Now, Mrs. Clinton, are there any questions you would like to ask us?″

″Do you all ever take a lunch break?″ the first lady inquired with a laugh.

And that was that.

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