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Hillary Clinton presents her plan for universal health care

Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton defended her plan for universal health care, and is not going to repeat the mistakes that doomed her earlier effort to cover millions of people when she was first lady.

The New York senator, who is running for president, also pledged to vote against additional Iraq war funding unless most combat troops get to come home.

Clinton, interviewed on the Sunday television talk shows, sought to portray herself as a more humble, wiser leader who has learned from her mistakes and who would work to shed her image as a polarizing figure who would mire Washington in gridlock.

She even giggled her way through questions about whether the health care proposal she announced last week amounted to socialized medicine.

Deflecting criticism from her Republican and Democratic opponents, Clinton called it a "moral imperative" for the country to provide coverage for the estimated 47 million people without health insurance.

Republican Rudy Giuliani has described the plan as a "march toward socialized medicine." Democrat John Edwards has accused her of copying his plan, and he and Sen. Joe Biden both have said she is too divisive to get the job done.

Clinton said she regretted being unable to successfully extend coverage in the early 1990s in a bruising political battle when she was first lady.

"Since we weren't successful, we've seen millions of more people without insurance and many millions more who have insurance, except when they really need it and the insurance company tells their doctor or the hospital they won't pay for the needed treatment," she said on ABC's "This Week."

"I think that what is so uniquely American about the American experience is that, you know, you get knocked down, you get back up," Clinton said on ABC. "I've learned a lot and I think I now know better how to do what - there is a consensus-building that we must do."

Clinton's plan would require businesses to provide insurance for employees, and the wealthy would pay higher taxes to help defray costs for those less able to pay for it. She put the government's cost at $110 billion (78.3 billion EUR) a year.

She said she would pay for it through higher taxes and making the health care system more efficient.

"I'm waiting for any Republican candidate to come out with a plan that can be really scrutinized, that we can ask hard questions about," Clinton said on ABC. "It seems as though they're in the 'just say no' category."

Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who also is pondering a 2008 run, said Clinton's proposal amounted to a "big government plan." But he commended her for starting a discussion of the issue.

"Instead of saying yes/no, why don't we take this as the start of a dialogue?" he said on "Fox News Sunday." "Some things that she proposes are interesting and useful. Some things need to be challenged very directly."

On Iraq, Clinton said the time has come to focus on ways to extricate most U.S. combat troops from what she called a "sectarian civil war."

She told "Fox News Sunday" her first step will be to vote against funding "that does not move us toward beginning to withdraw our troops, that does not have pressure on the Iraqi government to make the tough political decisions that they have."

"Obviously, as president, I will have to ... try to make the very best decisions I have. But there is no doubt, in my mind, we're going to be withdrawing from Iraq," Clinton added on ABC.

On other issues, Clinton:

-Said the U.S. needs to keep closer tabs on North Korea to make sure it is not cooperating with Syria on developing a nuclear program. "They need to be reined in," she said.

-Declined to criticize Columbia University's decision to invite Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak on Monday, but said: "If I were a president of the university, I would not have invited him."

Republican challenger Mitt Romney responded by saying her refusal to denounce the Ivy League school's decision "demonstrates weakness."

Clinton also appeared on "Face the Nation" on CBS, NBC's "Meet the Press," and CNN's "Late Edition."