Fact-Check: No, Hillary Clinton Was Not a Leader in Rallying Support for the Children’s Health Insurance Program

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

During the second presidential debate, Hillary Clinton claimed to have had a leadership role in rallying bipartisan support for the Children’s Health Insurance Program with bipartisan, which was signed into law in 1998 by her husband, President Bill Clinton


Clinton has frequently made this claim on the campaign trail, so media organizations have already had an opportunity to vet it. In June, the Washington Post gave her copious benefit of the doubt for being in favor of the concept behind the bill, but if she played any role in winning congressional approval, it was “hidden” and “debatable.”

“By all accounts, the prime mover behind CHIP was the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). He was inspired by a similar Massachusetts program and then enlisted Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) as his partner in the effort. The idea was to fund children’s health care with money raised from taxes on tobacco products. Bill Clinton endorsed the idea in his 1997 State of the Union address but then backed off when it appeared that the concept would imperil budget talks with Republicans. With urging from the president, a Senate vote in May doomed the plan,” said the Washington Post fact-check.

Efforts to fact-check Hillary Clinton’s role in pushing the bill have produced conflicting accounts – which, in and of itself, refutes her claim of bold bipartisan leadership. If Clinton was the driving force behind getting Democrats and Republicans together on CHIP, rather than Kennedy and Hatch, there wouldn’t be any real dispute about her role.

Also, the accounts that do give her credit for helping with the bill are mostly words of appreciation from friendly Democrats, such as Kennedy’s office.

For example, a senior health adviser to Kennedy, Nick Littlefield, said of Clinton: “She wasn’t a legislator, she didn’t write the law, and she wasn’t the president, so she didn’t make the decisions. But we relied on her, worked with her and she was pivotal in encouraging the White House to do it.”

That encomium hardly supports Clinton’s claim of playing a leading role in rallying congressional support; she was, at best, useful for encouraging her husband’s White House to stick with the bill.

Clinton has occasionally claimed to have played a role in creating the CHIP legislation, a claim no knowledgeable contemporaneous source seems willing to support. More damningly, a 2008 review by the Boston Globe – fact-checking Clinton’s claims during her primary run against Barack Obama – found that Clinton “had little to do with crafting the landmark legislation or ushering it through Congress, according to several lawmakers, staffers, and healthcare advocates involved in the issue.”

Orrin Hatch himself said of Clinton, “I do like her. We all care about children. But does she deserve credit for SCHIP? No – Teddy does, but she doesn’t.” (“Teddy” is a reference to Senator Ted Kennedy.)


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