Dole offers cooperation on health GOP leader accepts bipartisan approach with a warning

August 18, 1993|By John Frece | John Frece,Staff Writer

TULSA, OKLA. -- The Republican leader of the Senate accepted President Clinton's call for a bipartisan effort to reform America's health care system yesterday but made it clear that Congress intends to revise any plan with its own ideas and warned that passage will take time.

Nevertheless, in a conciliatory tone, Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas predicted that Congress would enact a health care reform bill by "sometime in the middle of next year" -- a timetable that governors attending the final day of their annual summer meeting here found encouraging.

"I took that as a pretty optimistic statement and think it augers well for health care," said Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a Democrat and incoming vice chairman of the National Governors' Association.

The Senate minority leader put Mr. Clinton -- who asked the governors for a bipartisan approach to health care in a speech Monday -- on notice that if he proposes a plan and insists that none of it be changed, "it's going to be a long, long winter."

He also said that bipartisanship does not mean "picking off just enough Republican votes to pass a plan."

A lack of consensus now is not all that bad, he said, adding that the ideas of others might improve on whatever the president will propose to Congress next month.

Governors in general said they left this year's conference more optimistic about the chances for passage of national health care reform, which was the dominant issue at the meeting, than they had expected.

Carroll A. Campbell Jr., the Republican governor of South Carolina and incoming NGA chairman, said Mr. Clinton on Monday and Mr. Dole yesterday eased many of the governors' concerns.

"I saw a willingness from the president to try to find solutions and seek answers," he said.

"The willingness [of] the president and first lady was interesting and encouraging to Republican members who felt they were left out."

ZTC Despite calls by Mr. Clinton and NGA leaders for a bipartisan approach, the weekend meeting got off to a partisan start after Democratic governors received a private briefing from White House health adviser Ira C. Magaziner on Saturday.

Republicans cried foul.

But before the weekend was over, Republicans were given the same briefing, and that seemed to patch up the split.

Governors seemed particularly impressed by Mr. Clinton's cooperative attitude during a private working session Monday, and they also said they were glad to hear Mr. Dole say that the initial Republican opposition to parts of the plan are "not cast in stone."

Republicans have strongly opposed the president's proposal to require employers to furnish health insurance to their employees, saying that it could be too costly to business and could put Americans out of work.

But both Mr. Dole and Mr. Campbell said that their opposition could change once Congress begins working on the details of the bill.

If the measure is not enacted by the middle of next year, however, it is likely to become enmeshed in the 1994 congressional re-election campaigns, Mr. Dole warned.

Clearly, the president fears that the issue will polarize Democrats and Republicans the way his budget did, that the debate will drag on endlessly and that a historic opportunity will be missed.

The problem, the president said in his speech Monday, is that the bipartisan approach the governors' association prides itself in taking is unheard of in Washington.

"Back East, where I work, consensus is often turned into cave-in; people who try to work together and listen to one another instead of beat each other up are accused of being weak, not strong.

"And the process is a hundred times more important than the product," he said. "Beats anything I ever saw."

Mr. Clinton, who once headed the NGA, appeared nostalgic about his days as Arkansas' governor, saying he missed the NGA's collaborative, usually bipartisan approach.

"I miss you. I miss this," he told the governors.

"I miss the way we make decisions.

"I miss the sort of heart and soul and fabric of life that was a part of every day when I got up and went to work in a state capital.

"Somehow, we've got to bring that back to Washington," he said.

ROBINSON HONORED

Bishop L. Robinson, Maryland's secretary of public safety and correctional services, was one of five state officials to receive a Distinguished Service Award at the National Governors' Association meeting.

The award honors distinguished service to state government.

Since 1987, he has overseen the state police and prisons, directing the addition of more than 10,500 prison beds, beginning the boot camp program and implementing a computerized fingerprint system.

"This award confirms what we in Maryland have known for a long time, that Bishop Robinson is one of the top public safety officials in the country," said Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

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