Health care will be the top domestic issue in the 2008 presidential race. And a bold move by John Edwards has confronted Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton with a difficult choice.
When Edwards, the Democrats' 2004 vice presidential candidate, announced his bid for the top nomination, he said creating universal health care in America is more important than balancing the budget.
That puts Edwards, the former North Carolina senator, to the left of where Clinton has been since 2001.
It is where a Democratic hopeful wants to be in the primaries, which are heavily influenced from the left. Edwards' adroit move could further aggravate the New York Democrat's problems with the liberals she irritated over her positions on the Iraq War.
If Clinton runs for president, she may have to trump Edwards' call for universal health care now, or rouse the furies stirred by her 1993-1994 efforts to pass a plan for total care.
Clinton's plan was savaged by shortsighted business interests who wanted to keep on picking the most profitable fruit in the health care orchard, and by lazy reporters who live off of writing "conflict" stories.
Insurance combines provided the fodder for these shallow stories with the "Harry and Louise" ads that complained Clinton's plan was too complicated. They were supported by the ultra-rightists who whispered that Clinton's format was socialized medicine.
It was complicated because that's what health care is, with more than a dozen plans run by the federal government alone. Each state has its own and no two are alike.
Taxpayer money pays for at least half of all health care.
The socialism charge was false, and the accusers knew it. Coverage was based on private insurance catchments.
Former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., who has announced his bid for the Republican nomination, mimicked Clinton's plan in extending subsidized private insurance to everyone in his state.
President Bush has embraced Clinton's proposal to create small business combines to buy health insurance for their employees. But Bush's real motive is to break state regulation of the health insurance business.
Clinton's ideas crashed under the pressure of media ignoramuses, false advertising, panic in Congress and the surprising opposition of the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., probably at the insistence of Wall Street.
Today, Congress stands chastened by history and the $100 million-plus that profiteers can throw into negative ads.
Clinton has been squarely down the middle on health care. She's deeply interested in the issue, but has taken care to co-sponsor bills dealing with the well being of children, military personnel and women with conservatives such as Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.
She did not sign on to the principal 2005 Democratic bill paving the way for Canadian drug imports and negotiated drug buying for Medicare Part D. Instead, she backed a bipartisan bill that would create a process for doing both. Neither bill went anywhere.
In the few interviews Clinton gives touching on the subject, she says she is still focused on the goal of universal coverage. She didn't use that phrase in her remarks after her swearing-in Thursday for a second Senate term, but urged passage of more limited objectives.
"It's not so much an incremental approach, but a sequential one," said Ron Pollack, who heads Families USA, a nonpartisan health care advocacy group.
"Having gone through the crucible [of 1993-94], her idea is not to change the objective," Pollack said, "but to stay focused on how to get there."
Time will tell whether that approach will work for Clinton in the Democratic primaries.