Democrats tested their twin healthcare messages of protecting Medicare from spending reductions and tightening the healthcare safety net as the delegates convened last week to renominate President Clinton as the party's presidential candidate.
On a week that formally launched his fall campaign for re-election, Clinton joined Democratic congressional leaders at the party's national convention in Chicago in touting initiatives that they said could cover at least 4 million more uninsured people.
"A parent may be without a job," Clinton said in his acceptance speech. "But no child should be without a doctor."
Meanwhile, convention delegates heard appeals to protect Medicare from politicians who were described as "raiding" the program to pay for tax cuts.
That description was aimed squarely at Republican nominee Bob Dole, who has pledged $548 billion in tax cuts if he is elected.
Democrats said Dole has not been specific about how he would keep the deficit from growing under that economic plan and charged that he would squeeze savings from Medicare to offset the tax cuts.
In his acceptance speech, Clinton described it as "a risky $550 billion tax scheme that will force them to ask for even bigger cuts in Medicare (and) Medicaid...than they passed and I vetoed last year."
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) led Democrats in trying to portray the Medicare question as a "family" issue because he said the program protects elderly Americans and their adult children "against impoverishment because of catastrophic illness."
Referring to the 1994 elections that put Republicans in charge of both houses of Congress for the first time in decades, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) said: "The people voted for change. They did not vote to cut Medicare."
At the same time, Clinton aides said Congress and the White House will have to consider restructuring the program next year to ensure its solvency. Clinton supports a plan that would achieve about $116 billion in Medicare savings between now and 2002, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates.
Republicans criticize Clinton for standing in the way of necessary reforms to prevent the insolvency of the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, which now is projected to be exhausted by 2001.
Last year, Republican congressional leaders advanced a plan to balance the federal budget by 2002, partly by seeking more than $200 billion in savings from Medicare. Clinton vetoed that plan.
Tony Blankley, press secretary to House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), noted that Democratic leaders described the congressional Republican balanced-budget plan as cutting Medicare. In reality, he pointed out, total and per-beneficiary spending still would have increased every year.
Democratic congressional leaders also are pushing plans to extend coverage to children and under-65 retirees, while Clinton touted a plan to subsidize health insurance premiums for temporarily unemployed people.