February 5, 2008
The Cooper Concerns
By DAVID BROOKS
I’m not a Hillary-hater. She’s been an outstanding senator. She hung tough on Iraq through the
dark days of 2005. In this campaign, she has soldiered on bravely even though she has most of
the elected Democrats, news media and the educated class rooting against her.
But there are certain moments when her dark side emerges and threatens to undo the good she is
trying to achieve. Her campaign tactics before the South Carolina primary were one such
moment. Another, deeper in her past, involved Jim Cooper, a Democratic congressman from
Cooper is one of the most thoughtful, cordial and well-prepared members of the House. In 1992,
he came up with a health care reform plan that would go on to attract wide, bipartisan support. A
later version had 58 co-sponsors in the House — 26 Republicans and 32 Democrats. It was
sponsored in the Senate by Democrat John Breaux and embraced by Daniel Patrick Moynihan,
But unlike the plan Hillary Clinton came up with then, the Cooper plan did not include employer
mandates to force universal coverage.
On June 15, 1993, Cooper met with Clinton to discuss their differences. Clinton was “ice cold”
at the meeting, Cooper recalls. “It was the coldest reception of my life. I was excoriated.”
Cooper told her that she was getting pulled too far to the left. He warned that her plan would
never get through Congress. Clinton’s response, Cooper now says, was: “We’ll crush you. You’ll
wish you never mentioned this to me.”
In the weeks and months following that meeting, the Clinton administration reached out to
Cooper. As David Broder and Haynes Johnson wrote in “The System,” their history of the health
care reform effort, President Bill Clinton invited Cooper to go jogging and play golf. Others in
the Clinton White House thought Cooper was right on the merits, and privately let him know.
But Hillary Clinton set up a war room to oppose Cooper, who was planning to run for the Senate
in 1994. As the Broder and Johnson book makes clear, Clinton and her aides believed Cooper
was pursuing his own political agenda. They accused him of crafting his plan in order to raise
money from the insurance and hospital industries. They said he was in league with the for-profit
hospitals to crush competitors and monopolize the industry. They did this despite the fact that
Cooper’s centrist health care approach was entirely consistent with his overall philosophy.
At one meeting in the West Wing, a source told Broder and Johnson, Clinton “kind of got this
evil look and said, ‘We’ve got to do something about this Cooper bill. We’ve got to kill it before
it goes any further.’ ”