by Rick Pearson
DES MOINES — Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards says he doesn't want to get involved in the "petty bickering" over expanding health care that has been at the forefront of high-profile battling between rivals Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
But the former North Carolina senator also doesn't want Iowa caucusgoers to forget that he proposed his own universal health plan early in the campaign, that it mandates people obtain insurance, and that anything short of that—such as the Illinois senator's proposal—doesn't meet the "threshold requirement for health care reform in this country."
Speaking to reporters after a meeting of Iowa county officials at a downtown hotel, Edwards would not go as far as Clinton did the day before in accusing Obama of "betraying the Democratic Party's principles" with a plan that does not mandate that people obtain health insurance." Obama's campaign labeled Clinton's remarks "desperate."
But Edwards also noted that Clinton has failed to specify exactly how she would require people to get health insurance. Under his plan, Edwards said anyone who came in contact with the health-care or education system would be required to sign up for insurance.
"Sen. Clinton's plan, which came out in September, is very similar to mine that came out in February, but I have not seen any specifics about how her mandate would work or how she would enforce her mandate," Edwards said. "I've laid out exactly how my mandate would work and we have a way to make sure it's enforceable."
Though Edwards has been among Clinton's harshest critics in the weeks leading up to the most recent sparring between the New York senator and Obama, going so far as to link her to "corporate Democrats" who would be no better than Republicans in trying to reform Washington, his comments on Thursday were far from inflammatory.
Is Edwards acknowledging that a bitter fight between Clinton and Obama might benefit him in the way that John Kerry benefited four years ago in Iowa from the sharp rhetoric that flowed between then-rivals Howard Dean and Richard Gephardt?
"There are many dangers constantly in politics," Edwards said of the potential risks to Clinton and Obama engaging in negative infighting. When asked by reporters if the attention devoted to Clinton and Obama could marginalize his own efforts, Edwards said, "You guys want me to be a political consultant, don't ya?"
Obama has contended his plan, which would mandate coverage for children, would lead to universal coverage by making health insurance more affordable. Obama has said people want health insurance, but just can't afford to pay for it.
But Edwards pointedly repeated that "Obama's plan is not universal" and could lead to millions of people not being covered by insurance.
"Mine is universal. It requires everybody to be covered by law. You have to have a mandate, a legal requirement, to make it universal and his plan is not," Edwards said of Obama. "He made a different choice and he's totally entitled to defend it, but I believe we should have truly universal coverage."