Clinton: NY win is no excuse on Medicare

@CNNMoney May 25, 2011: 1:49 PM ET
Bill Clinton tells Democrats: New York win is no excuse on Medicare.

Former President Clinton says Democrats can -- and must -- step up with plans to fix Medicare.

WASHINGTON (CNNMoney) -- Bill Clinton had a word of warning on Wednesday for fellow Democrats: Don't get too cocky about voters' rejection of Paul Ryan's Medicare plan.

In a special election for a vacant House seat on Tuesday, a Democrat candidate upset a Republican in a GOP-stronghold in upstate New York.

The race was widely seen as a proxy on Ryan's controversial Republican proposal plan to convert Medicare into a voucher program.

Clinton, speaking at a fiscal summit sponsored by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, said the race showed that voters don't like the Republican plan.

But he also told Democrats not to shy away from tackling entitlement programs.

"You shouldn't look at the New York race and think that nobody can do anything to slow Medicare costs," Clinton said.

House budget chief Ryan's proposal would convert Medicare -- the health care program for seniors -- into a voucher program in 2022. Seniors would choose from a Medicare-approved list of private insurance plans. Wealthier seniors would pay more and poorer seniors would get federal subsidies.

Ryan, who spoke after Clinton at the summit, wasn't asked directly about the New York race. But he did accuse Democrats of trying to use Medicare to scare seniors.

"Democrats are shamelessly demagoging and distorting this," Ryan said. "Trying to scare seniors and (making) these things as political weapons creates political paralysis," he said.

Clinton also weighed in on the most pressing fiscal issue facing policymakers: the debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said the ceiling, a cap on total federal government debt, must be raised by Aug. 2 to prevent the country from defaulting on its bonds.

The former president said President Obama should consider giving a national address to educate American voters about the consequences of a failure to raise it in time.

"They never lived through it; nobody knows what will happen," Clinton said.

Clinton warned that political leaders "can't be paralyzed," and that they must find a bipartisan way to raise the debt limit, even if it's unpopular.

"A lot of the most important things I did were unpopular," Clinton said. To top of page

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