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First Lady on Radio, TV as Visit Ends : Policies: She defends husband's compromise on gays in military and makes a final pitch for health care reform.

July 21, 1993|DOUGLAS P. SHUIT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton wrapped up her two-day visit to Los Angeles on Tuesday by defending her husband's compromise policy on homosexuals in the military, renewing a commitment from the White House to help California workers displaced by military cutbacks, and, of course, talking about the need to reform the health care system.

Mrs. Clinton, who heads a White House task force on health care reform and talked about little else during public appearances here, got off the subject when radio talk show host Michael Jackson asked whether disaster relief costs associated with flooding in the Midwest would cut into the federal government's help to California.

"I don't think so," Mrs. Clinton said. "The problems in California are of a structural nature, and so when we look at California and what needs to be done, we have to take a long-term approach."

During a 30-minute interview with Jackson on KABC radio, Mrs. Clinton defended her husband's policy on homosexuals in the military. The new policy eases restrictions barring homosexuals from service but continues to allow military authorities to investigate and discharge gay men and lesbians for misconduct, including public displays of same-sex affection.

The First Lady called the policy on homosexuals "a step forward." Asked whether she would be satisfied with that answer if she were gay, Mrs. Clinton said, "If I knew anything about how government works, and how difficult change is, I would be ecstatic."

Mrs. Clinton also appeared on ABC television's national "Home Show," where she discussed health care reform and family life in the White House.

Since the President's inauguration in January, Mrs. Clinton has been occupied with drafting a health reform package that would provide basic medical benefits to the 40 million Americans who lack health coverage. She said the plan also will try to cap the sharply rising costs of the health care delivery system. Individuals, governments, insurers and employers will spend more than $900 billion on health care in 1993, a figure that has been growing by about $100 billion a year.

Mrs. Clinton said the unveiling of the White House plan, which was initially supposed to have been released in May, had been put off until at least September because President Clinton has been concentrating on the federal budget, his deficit reduction plan and a tax increase package.

"Trying to bring anything else as important as health care into the middle of that just didn't seem possible," Mrs. Clinton said. "Everybody wanted to keep their focus on trying to get a reasonable budget that actually would bring down the deficit. So we are all waiting for that to get finished and as soon as it is we are going to come with health care."

Mrs. Clinton also talked about motherly differences she had with her daughter, Chelsea, 13, over clothes and pierced ears. "Sometimes I'm just amazed at what they wear to school," she said.

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