Hillary Rodham Clinton told Congress yesterday that, "speaking personally," she would support a tax on guns and ammunition to raise money for health care reform and to highlight the link between violence and health costs.
"I'm all for it," she declared in a response to a suggestion by Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) that the Congress should impose a 25 percent sales tax on handguns to "tax directly the purveyors of violence."
"I just don't know what else we're going to do to get a handle on violence. We will look at your proposal," she said, although White House officials said later there is no plan to include it as a way to finance health reform.
Bradley said a 25 percent tax on handguns and raising the gun dealer license fee to $2,500, from its current $30 to $70, would raise $600 million, according to figures from the Joint Committee on Taxation.
Early in the formulation of its health care policy, the Clinton administration considered a tax on guns and ammunition, sources said. President Clinton raised the link between guns and health in his speech to Congress a week ago and since then various legislators have taken up the call.
"It is political judgment and a personal judgment the president made," said White House health care spokesman Kevin Anderson. Other officials said the administration did not want to take on the pro-gun lobby, but that it was hoped members of Congress might add it on their own.
The topic came up during Hillary Clinton's third day of testimony on Capitol Hill, this time before the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), who recently called the administration's financing plan a "fantasy."
In contrast, Moynihan yesterday went on a polite probing expedition and Clinton, in turn, was effusive in her praise of things relating to New York, including the chairman.
Moynihan and some other senators questioned the administration's assumption that the proposed program could squeeze enough waste out of the current health care system to fund its subsidies for low-income workers and small firms.
There can be "no rosy scenarios, no smoke and mirrors, no juggling the books," said Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.). "Someone will have to sacrifice."
Administration officials believe the White House plan can force the private health care system -- through incentives to be competitive and limits on annual increases in health premiums -- to become more efficient and provide quality medical care.
"If I have any misgiving . . . it is a misgiving based on history . . . " said Moynihan. "You have done more to attempt to quantify the cost as accurately as possible as I think can humanly be done, but I would still bet a dime to a dollar they're wrong, and maybe that's just 25 years of being burned."
Moynihan noted that Medicaid is growing 16 percent a year and that the White House plan calls for slowing the growth to zero within several years. Reminding her of a conversation he had had recently with President Clinton in which the president said he wanted to build "reality checks" into the plan, Moynihan asked:
"How would that survive a reality check?"
Hillary Clinton, unflinching, responded: "We are thinking zero growth as a budget target," then rattled off a half-dozen examples of cost-saving programs around the country and concluded with an analogy:
"I would argue . . . that a Mozart quartet being played in the 18th century and being played in the 20th century still requires four people.
"The problem with the American health care system is, if you can imagine, that quartet has added people to hold the chairs, to hand the violins in, and has required the musicians to stop at the third or fourth page of music to call somebody to make sure they can go on to the next bar."