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EXTRA ~ Ex-president Clinton discusses health care, gay rights at Netroots

[JURIST] Former US president William Jefferson Clinton [official profile] addressed a capacity crowd late Thursday night at a progressive convention held by Netroots Nation [advocacy group] in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Since leaving office, Clinton has become known for his charitable and humanitarian work [foundation website], and on Thursday he discussed the evolution of "communitarian solutions" to world problems, devoting a large portion of his speech to healthcare reform legislation, which he said affects 16 percent of the nation's economy. He asserted that Hillary Clinton's healthcare proposal [Economist report], submitted to Congress during his administration, has been unfairly maligned over the past decade as a massive unworkable document "breaking the backs of federal statutes," when it actually "reduced the number of pages of federal law devoted to healthcare." He accused the insurance companies of "rewrit[ing] history" to alter the public's view of the legislation.

Taking a jab at the vehement disruptions in the recent series of town hall meetings [Oakland Tribune report] focused on President Barack Obama's healthcare plan [official materials], Clinton smiled as he emphasized that providing assistance with the preparation of a living will is "not the same as inviting people to die." More somber when discussing the legislation's meaning for his party, he stressed that it is "politically imperative for the Democrats to pass a health care bill" and stated that the bill's opponents would be silenced when all went well with the program a year after its implementation.

Early in Clinton's speech, a blogger jumped up and interrupted [Huffington Post report] the proceedings by yelling at the former president and criticizing him for the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" [TIME backgrounder] policy for gay military personnel, which was implemented during his administration. Clinton responded by sternly reprimanding the man, charging that "you couldn't deliver me [the] support in Congress" necessary to permit gays and lesbians to serve openly. He expressed his distaste for the policy, saying that the party imbalance in Congress forced his hand in the matter, and added that he hopes the policy will be replaced [CNN report] now that the numbers are more favorable. Another comment from the audience prompted Clinton to briefly discuss the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text], also passed during his administration. DOMA defined the term "marriage" as being "only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife," and declared:

No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or
judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship."
He stated that DOMA was "an attempt to head off a Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage," adding, "I didn't like signing DOMA ... and I think we're going forward in the right direction." Near the end of his speech, Clinton's tone was more cheerful and he mentioned the issue again, commenting, "I liked it that that fella challenged me on Don't Ask Don't Tell. I didn't like it either!"

Clinton spent the end of his talk on climate change, touching briefly on the importance of meeting the greenhouse gas emissions objectives of the Kyoto Protocol [UNFCC materials]. The US is a non-binding symbolic signatory of the agreement, and Clinton stressed that the US must have meaningful legislation in the area. He alluded to the upcoming Climate Change Conference [official website] to be held in December, stating, "we will never get China and India ... to end the Copenhagen process unless we get a bill." Clinton expressed his excitement and satisfaction at the popularity of the "Cash for Clunkers" (CARS) [official website] program, which provides a monetary incentive for consumers to trade in their older, less gas-efficient vehicles and purchase new models. He stated:
Cash for Clunkers has worked great. We ought to put that on steroids when we can sell electric cars!
Clinton concluded his speech by saying that he often reads blogs, but told the bloggers in the room not to assume that their readers' level of knowledge on these issues is as high as their own. He said that he hopes to see more blog posts with concrete instructions and recommendations for lawmakers and the general public, so that they can be moved to action more readily. The former president did not take any questions at the end of his speech.

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