"It doesn't serve us to get into a legislative fight with the president; all it does is allow him to define himself against us," said Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, the fourth-ranking House Republican. "When he doesn't have us to fight with, his numbers go down."
At a news conference last week, Mr. Dole mocked the Clinton administration for acknowledging that the United States is defenseless against a rogue or accidental ballistic missile attack.
The Senate majority leader surprised House leaders a couple of weeks ago when he walked into a strategy session carrying a chart detailing the status of the dozens of unpassed items in the "Contract with America."
Voters ask about contract
The contract had always been a House project, born in the 1994 election season, which Mr. Dole embraced only tentatively after the elections. But out on the campaign trail this year, Mr. McCain said, voters are asking, "Whatever happened to the contract?"
So Mr. Dole and his congressional team are determined to send every possible contract item to the president's desk. They'll compromise where they must to get the items through the Senate, where Democrats can block most legislation with a filibuster.
One such case is the bill to limit damages in lawsuits involving faulty products, which Mr. McCain said "was totally watered down." But it passed the Senate and will soon be on its way to Mr. Clinton's desk for a likely veto.
Mr. Dole and his colleagues have not yet decided exactly how to approach major issues that remain unfinished: the balanced budget deal, welfare reform, tax cuts, Medicaid and Medicare.
Those issues are delicate because Republicans in tight races are being attacked by Democrats who charge that their opponents want to cut health programs for the poor and elderly in order to give tax breaks for the rich.
Republicans in those races, though, maintain that they are confident Mr. Dole can help. "It's our message of hope and opportunity vs. a campaign of fear," said Rep. John Ensign, a freshman Republican from Nevada whose re-election is rated as a tossup.
Pub Date: 3/24/96