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In Latest Campaign Issue, Bradley Attacks Gore’s Health Care Plan

By Mike Allen and Ceci Connolly

After repeated attacks by Vice President Al Gore over his sweeping health care plan, Bill Bradley punched back Monday, accusing his Democratic rival of retreating from fundamental changes to the nation’s health insurance system that he once had supported.

“In the case of health care, Al Gore decided it wasn’t worth standing and fighting,” Bradley said in what he had billed as a major health policy speech. “He abandoned that fundamental Democratic principle of basic health care for all Americans he had talked about so much in the campaign of 1992 and during the first two years of the administration.”

Over the past few weeks the health care fight between the two men vying for the Democratic nomination has escalated into full-blown name calling. Bradley has labeled Gore “timid” and Monday, in his most pointed retort, said the vice president’s attacks echo “the political opportunism of Newt Gingrich,” the former Republican House speaker. Gore, for his part, has said his opponent is an irresponsible big spender who was “MIA” in previous health care battles.

Bradley’s health-care program would require health insurance for all children, add prescription drugs as a Medicare benefit, replace the current Medicaid system with grants to individual states and allow many more Americans to buy into the health system used by federal workers.

In his speech Monday to health care professionals, Bradley argued that the nation’s booming economy presents a unique opportunity to provide health care to millions more Americans. “I ask you, if now is not the time, when is? The time is now,” he said. “I think it is morally unacceptable that 44 million Americans, one out of four of them children, don’t have health insurance.”

Bradley said Gore was scared off by the abysmal failure of President Clinton’s 1994 health-insurance overhaul. “The lesson Al Gore learned from their health care defeat was that big, bold things can’t get done in Washington, so let’s look to the small symbolic things,” Bradley said. Instead, he argued that health care is “a large problem that requires a large solution.”

“It’s not now, and never has been, a question of money -- it’s a question of will,” Bradley continued.