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Clinton on Medicare’s Role in New York House Race; Prospects for Budget Deal

Former President Bill Clinton said the unlikely Democratic victory in New York’s 26th congressional district Tuesday was most certainly a referendum on Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to overhaul Medicare, but cautioned Democrats against reading the win as an excuse to not attempt to rein in Medicare costs and resolve the program’s long-term sustainability.

“You shouldn’t draw the conclusion that the New York race means that nobody can do anything to slow the rate of Medicare costs,” said Mr. Clinton, speaking with NewsHour senior correspondent Gwen Ifill at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation-sponsored 2011 Fiscal Summit in Washington, D.C.

“I’m afraid that Democrats will draw the conclusion that because Congressman Ryan’s proposal, I think, is not the best one, that we shouldn’t do anything. I would completely disagree with that. I think there are lots of things you can do to bring down Medicare costs,” Mr. Clinton said.

While he applauded Rep. Ryan’s attempt to tackle some of those problems, he concluded, “On the merits, it doesn’t work.” He went on to say, “I hope that’s the lesson we’ll draw from the New York election, not that we can’t talk about Medicare and that we have to tippy-toe around, but that we have got to have a system that brings health costs with our competitors.”

When asked point-blank if Rep. Ryan’s overall approach to deficit reduction was dead on arrival, the former president responded, “I think he’s wrong to say no matter what happens and no matter what the circumstances are, we won’t touch taxes.”

Mr. Clinton did express confidence that ongoing talks on the country’s budget deficit crisis will ultimately produce a deal, despite the recent loss of Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., from the so-called “Gang of Six” senators. “There is a real hunger for us to do things,” he said. “I wouldn’t put it past the president and Congress to reach a deal next year,” he added.

Former President Clinton later walked back on remarks that it might not be that harmful if the U.S. “defaulted on the debt once for a few days.”

Mr. Clinton also weighed in on the kerfuffle surrounding President Obama’s recent comments about the Middle East, including his insistence that any negotiation between the Israelis and Palestinians be based on 1967 borders and land swaps.

Mr. Clinton questioned those remarks, before portraying the news media attention they garnered as much ado about nothing.

“I think what the president said was maybe too much shorthand and raised a lot of questions,” former President Clinton said. He acknowledged the difficulties involved in negotiations in the region and offered this advice: “Don’t let this thing get off the tracks here because of what the president said and what Prime Minister Netanyahu said and then juxtaposed. You can overstate the divide here. As long as they’re both willing to keep talking about this, I think they should.”

Judy Woodruff also spoke to a bipartisan panel of lawmakers that now comprise the “Gang of Five” at the event. The group is working on a plan for deficit reduction.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., explained that any final deal to get the nation’s debt under control will take a shared sacrifice from all Americans — and that may not prove popular.

And Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said that in the wake of the 11th hour debate over a continuing resolution to keep the government open and other alternatives, both parties are urging the panel “not to quit.”

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