In Iowa, Bob Dole says Obama should focus on health care

Associated Press

GRINNELL, Iowa — Former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole said President-elect Barack Obama should make health care a top priority in his first year in office

The 1996 GOP presidential nominee also said his party has abandoned its fiscally conservative roots.

Dole made the comments during a question and answer session after giving the keynote address for Grinnell College’s celebration of World War II veterans on Thursday, where he also reflected on his life after politics.

"Obviously everybody wants (Obama) to succeed, with the numbers he’s going to have in Congress, he should," Dole said.


But Dole said the combination of an economic crisis and the litany of campaign promises presidential candidates make could limit Obama.

"In my view, he picks out one priority, which I hope would be healthcare, and make that the number one thing he wants to do," Dole said, arguing that the issue isn’t a simple choice between raising taxes and cutting costs. "I don’t think we can continue on the one track and just say we raise taxes. Reform means reform. It means, look at the cost side, too."

Dole also reflected on the state of the Republican Party. He said the GOP of today is not the same party he represented in the House and Senate beginning in 1961.

"When I got into politics, a mainstream conservative, not a right-wing, but a mainstream, middle-of-the-road conservative was someone who believed in lower taxes and lower spending," Dole said. "Now, if you don’t answer to five or six or seven other things, you’re not welcome in the party.

"We’ve got a big hole to dig ourselves out of."

Dole said his wife, North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole’s loss in her re-election race this year was a reflection of how much her opponent spent and Democrats targeting North Carolina in the presidential race.

"She couldn’t respond to (negative ads) because she didn’t have the money," Dole said with a sigh. "North Carolina was a targeted state, heavy black population ... on Election Day, it was pretty much a straight-ticket."

Dole’s keynote address focused on his experience as an injured soldier and his life after politics. He peppered his remarks with quips and made fun of his life after leaving the Senate, including his failed 1996 presidential bid.


Dole was injured in combat in Italy in April 1945 and said his recovery at hospitals in the U.S. gave him perspective during his work on a commission investigating the fallout from the Walter Reed veterans’ health care scandal in 2007.

Dole said injured Iraq War veterans need the quality-of-life benefit he proposed as part of one of six reforms to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare program.

"Our problem is that the veteran’s groups so far oppose it because these younger veterans would get more than Korean veterans or Vietnam veterans or World War II veterans," Dole said. "We got a lot of push back from those major service organizations and Congress listens to them, you know, very carefully."

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