Health care plan returns to spotlight LTC

November 29, 1993|By Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON -- The Clintons of Washington, like anxious parents checking the school calendar, will be preparing over the next two months for another big event in the young life of their health-care legislation.

With Congress out of session, the struggle for free trade won, and no foreign crises on the horizon, the Clintons are scheduling visits and speeches around the nation to rekindle interest in and sell what remains their most ambitious undertaking.

Armed with 10,000 copies of a 16-minute video of the president explaining the principles behind his plan, the Clintons and their surrogates want audiences to identify with those unnamed Americans on the video who voice worry about the costs and chances of losing their health insurance.

During the holiday season, when official Washington is usually absorbed with social activities, Cabinet members have set up hospital visits and news conferences to promote the White House legislation and link it to other issues.

Yesterday, for instance, Attorney General Janet Reno visited the trauma unit of Washington Hospital Center to emphasize how violence affects the health-care system.

The administration's aim is to generate wide public support as soon as Congress returns in January and to use that support to present a compelling argument for the legislation in President Clinton's State of the Union speech.

But, as the administration has discovered, difficult political issues rarely move in straight lines across the power grid of Washington.

While attention to the vote on the North American Free Trade Agreement and foreign concerns helped obscure details of the debate over health care, the administration chose to win support by emphasizing the need for change and not the complex proposals that they hope will revamp the entire health-care system.

There are, however, a multitude of Republicans and Democrats, lobbyists and public-interest advocates eager to revise and rewrite that legislation. Opponents have already begun media and advertising campaigns to generate doubt about its details, with the goal of restructuring key elements of the legislation.

As much as the White House prefers a quick debate on the merits of each proposal, soon after the administration's release of its 1,342-page proposal in late October, Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., said serious work in congressional committees wouldn't begin until February or March.

Mr. Dole, the Senate minority leader, said the real deal-making and compromises aren't expected until spring or summer, shortly before lawmakers return to their districts and states to campaign for re-election.

Mr. Clinton's health-care proposal has been discussed all year, and he outlined its major points in an address to a joint session of Congress in September. But it wasn't formally introduced into Congress until Nov. 20, after several refittings of cost estimates and benefits.

Critics and supporters voiced opinions that the administration's proposals were beginning to pale, so the administration has decided to take them out again to the public, where the exposure and large, calculated events might revitalize them.

For several months, Hillary Rodham Clinton has crisscrossed the nation, attending conferences and rallies to persuade the public and its representatives that the White House legislation is superior to a half-dozen competing proposals.

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