WASHINGTON -- The health-care reform plan President Bush was to unveil today is intended by his political advisers as a firewall to ward off rival Democratic proposals, and has little hope of winning passage this year, according to White House and campaign officials.
Instead, the package is intended almost entirely to serve political ends in an election year in which Mr. Bush already is seeking to portray Democrats as bent on replacing the nation's private health-care system with unwieldy government.
The plan would provide $100 billion in vouchers and tax breaks to help the poor and middle class buy medical insurance.
In an indication of where the plan stands on Mr. Bush's agenda, the details were kept out of Bush's 1993 budget proposal so they could be introduced in Cleveland today with more fanfare but a less formal White House commitment.
"I don't think it's a winning issue," a senior Bush campaign official said. "But it gives us something to hold up against the Democrats and national health."
A senior White House official stressed that Mr. Bush was "serious" about his health-care proposal but acknowledged that the administration was unlikely to get it through Congress. "If we can't," the official said, "it's a good political vehicle."
Political insulation against far-reaching Democratic proposals for universal health care has been a top Republican priority since Sen. Harris Wofford upset former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh in a Pennsylvania election in which the issue seemed to catch fire with voters.
The Bush package assembled since then marks a major departure from past Republican policy in its embrace of the principle that low- and middle-income families without health insurance should be provided tax breaks to help them afford it.
But the details of the plan also reflect what administration officials have described as a deliberate effort to avoid antagonizing key blocs of support and depends for its financing on proposals unlikely to bear up under congressional scrutiny.
The White House is relying for most of its revenue to pay for the plan by capping payments for Medicare and Medicaid -- a plan that congressional Democrats have rejected before, but was intended in part to offend the fewest possible voters.
The main feature of Bush's plan is proposed tax credits of $3,750 for needy families and tax deductions of the same amount for middle-income taxpayers who must buy their own health insurance.
Congressional sources say the White House, to avoid the impression that its plan would subsidize the industry, would require insurance companies to provide two types of policies. Any company wanting to sell insurance to these individuals would be required to offer both a standard policy and another, aimed at the working poor, with a minimal deductible and co-payment.