Edwards comes out swinging

Elizabeth Edwards didn't draw any embarrassing questions Thursday when she arrived on Capitol Hill to talk about health care.

No one remarked on her husband's failed presidential candidacy, or his infidelity, or the baby of uncertain parentage being raised by the woman who once produced Web videos for John Edwards.

Instead, Elizabeth Edwards heard praise, especially from female Democratic members of Congress, during a House subcommittee hearing on health care reform.

“Our friend,” Rep. Lois Capps of California described her.

“Incredible vision and leadership,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.

“So courageous,” added Rep. Hilda Solis of California.

It was Edwards' most public appearance since her husband admitted his infidelity on national television last month – and one day after she gave her first interview on that subject. While John Edwards may be ducking the limelight until after the election, his wife forged headlong into the health care debate.

Edwards showed hints of the feisty image she's cultivated over the years, slamming Republican presidential nominee John McCain and arguing with a GOP congressman about the cost of universal health care.

“Let's consider Sen. John McCain's approach (to health care) as the ideal conservative approach,” Edwards began.

She went on to slam McCain's ideas on health-care tax credits and the fact that his plan wouldn't cover all Americans, including some who may have pre-existing conditions such as cancer.

“Senator McCain and I have something in common, which is that neither of us would be covered under his health care plan,” Edwards said. “If you're 55 with cancer … good luck to you.”

Republicans on the committee appeared frustrated as Edwards went on eight minutes beyond her allotted five-minute slot.

Edwards appeared as a senior fellow for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, which, she said, was one of the first think tanks to thoroughly review McCain's health plan.

Edwards avoided reporters, ducking into a back room during a break and again after the hearing adjourned.

Her reticence came the same day as an interview appeared in the Detroit Free Press in which she described how she has tried to cope with her husband's 2006 affair and the press attention. Edwards is undergoing treatment for inoperable cancer, and she has said she isn't sure whether she'll live to see her youngest children become adults.

But her personal life didn't come up during her appearance on Capitol Hill.

Instead, she told the story of a 17-year-old girl in California who died after being denied a liver transplant by her health insurer. It was the same case cited by her husband on the campaign trail.

She also spoke of the woman at a campaign event “who whispered in my ear,” a single mother who found a lump in her breast but was frightened to have it checked out.

And Edwards argued with U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., when he asked panelists about the costs of universal health care and how best to pay for it. She suggested rolling back President Bush's tax cut on wealthy taxpayers.

Murphy responded that the wealthy already pay most of the nation's income taxes.

“That's an ideological argument,” Edwards shot back.