Former President Bill Clinton had some advice for U.S. Sen. Mark Udall on dealing with health care reform while the senator campaigns for re-election this year.
During an interview with The Denver Post Monday, Clinton reiterated recent advice that most Democrats, Udall included, should embrace the Affordable Care Act and its health insurance requirements. Udall hasn't backed down from his vote for President Barack Obama's reform law, though he's taken frequent hits from conservative groups and his Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner.
"Here's how I feel about it: I can't tell him what to do," Clinton said of Udall, "but I think that the worst thing we could have done with our health care system was nothing."
That doesn't mean, he said, that the law is perfect. He suggested the formation of a bipartisan commission to fix what's not working, but he acknowledged that was politically unrealistic, given Republicans' firm opposition to what they've dubbed Obamacare.
During the 20-minute interview, Clinton also talked up Denver as the perfect host for this week's Clinton Global Initiative America conference.
And he said he's behind Hillary Clinton if she wants to run for president — but he reiterated that his wife is nowhere near making that decision. The Democratic former secretary of state has said she would announce her intentions in November, at the earliest.
"Like I said, I'm a bit player," Bill Clinton said, "and whatever she wants to do is fine with me."
Both Clintons and their daughter, Chelsea, are in Denver this week to lead the conference, which runs Monday through Wednesday at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel. Their focus is on securing millions of dollars worth of years-long commitments from businesses, individuals and nonprofits that are aimed at improving Americans' economic prospects and education levels.
Clinton spoke to The Post for 20 minutes after finishing a tour of the under-construction Stout Street Health Center and Renaissance Stout Street Lofts. The project is focused on helping the homeless and vulnerable people.
The Clinton Global Initiative's annual domestic conference had been in Chicago until this year, and Clinton said the venue change — incidentally, to a swing state that Hillary Clinton also visited earlier this month — made sense.
"I wanted to have it here because both the city and the state reflect an innovative spirit," Clinton said. "They've tried to deal with a lot of challenges — and they've faced a lot of the challenges — that the country as a whole is facing in the 21st century. And I have a high regard for your mayor and your governor, and the whole idea, you know, of coming up with new ideas to solve persistent challenges."
He also was heartened by assurances by Steve Bachar and Steve Farber, the local organizers (and longtime loyalists), that the business and nonprofit communities in Denver have a history of working across partisan lines to solve problems.
Expanding on his Udall and Obamacare comments, Clinton said the need for reform was clear. He pointed to out-of-control health care spending and too many Americans being uninsured before the law's passage.
At the same time, he said, Colorado's health insurance exchange has attracted more signups than expected, and millions of people have benefited from the law in various ways.
"So, the worst thing we could have done was nothing," he said, "and I think that's one of the things that Sen. Udall ought to bring home to all those people who are committed to repealing it."
Finally, The Post asked Clinton to handicap the factors Hillary Clinton might consider as reasons to not run for president.
But he answered more generally than that:
"Well, I'm going to do whatever she wants to do," he began. "But you've got to understand: We wake up every day essentially very grateful. We've got an immensely rewarding life and our foundation. We've had great lives in public service. Our daughter is about to give us our first grandchild.
"And so I think what she feels is that it's way too soon for all of us to be politicizing everything, and she just wants to make sure — and also, I mean, she's quite well aware that there are no guarantees in this. Whoever you are, you've got to run like you never ran before and you're 50 points behind. That's what you do. ...
"She also has a deep appreciation for the economic and social challenges facing America at home, and how important it is to, you know, really have a program to take care of people. ... I think she just wants to think about that."
Clinton spoke with The Post after a tour of the $35 million Stout Street Health Center project, set to open in coming weeks at 21st Street. The project was financed in part using the New Market Tax Credit program signed into law by Clinton in 2000.
While journalists waited cordoned off behind a rope, Clinton toured the facility with Mayor Michael Hancock and John Parvensky, president of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.
He commented several times about the jobs and investment that had been spurred across the country by the tax credit program. For the coalition's project, the credits are valued at $4.5 million as part of a $17 million financing package put together by the AFL-CIO's Housing Investment Trust and U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corp.
"Most of the folks we serve have trauma in their lives," including military veterans and people with mental health issues, Parvensky told Clinton. The apartments will accommodate vulnerable people and families.
"You must be proud of this in Denver," Clinton later said to the media. "This is a beautiful, beautiful place."
Later, Clinton said during The Post interview that he believes the New Market credits "can play a major role in our economic revival" by jump-starting projects across the country.
As he was leaving the building, he stopped to sign a 1992 Clinton/Gore campaign sign for Patrick Aldretti, 31, who works for Kiewit Building Group. He marked it near the place where, nearly 22 years ago, on the night before the election, then-candidate Clinton had signed the placard at Stapleton International Airport for 9-year-old Patrick and his mother.
9:56 a.m. — Former President Bill Clinton, in Denver for his family's annual conference focused on domestic economic issues, plans to tour a downtown health clinic project Monday morning.
The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless is nearly done building the Stout Street Health Center and Renaissance Stout Street Lofts near 21st Street and Broadway. The $35 million development, set to open next month, was built in part using the New Market Tax Credit program signed into law by Clinton in 2000, his final year in office.
The new building will replace the health center that long has served the homeless across the street. It also will provide new supportive housing for vulnerable families and individuals, targeted to those with health issues and mental health needs.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is expected to join Clinton's tour.
The former president visiting Denver this week along with former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea, for the annual Clinton Global Initiative America conference, which is focused this year on gathering ideas and financial commitments to aid the economic recovery.
His visit to Stout Street highlights the New Markets program. Intended to spur projects that aid low-income communities, the program provides tax credits to investors in certain projects to offset some of the cost. Supporters credit the program with spurring more than $60 billion in investment in low-income communities.
The Stout Street clinic project was financed in part by $17 million in New Market credits and matching investments from a group called Building America, which is part of the AFL-CIO's Housing Investment Trust. U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corp. also helped finance the project.
"We are excited that the new Health Center and Lofts will immediately create a health care home for more than 18,000 individuals experiencing homelessness in Metro Denver, as well as a real home for families and individuals currently living on the streets or in emergency shelters," said John Parvensky, president of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, in a news release. "We are grateful that the community has come together to support this vital resource in the struggle to end homelessness in Colorado."
Jon Murray: 303-954-1405, email@example.com or twitter.com/JonMurray