Its momentum lost, health plan will be 'relaunched'

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- The administration plans to "relaunch" its health plan in two weeks, when the proposal goes in final form to Congress -- a tacit admission that the proposal has lost momentum since its unveiling last month.

The second kickoff will probably include campaign-style stops across the country by President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well as the release of a video and a book written in plain language, a senior White House aide said.


At the same time, the senior aide expressed the frustration felt by many in the White House over the steady drumbeat of congressional criticism about the delay in submitting the plan in legislative form. The White House has followed a schedule agreed upon by congressional leaders before Mr. Clinton's Sept. 22 health speech, the aide said -- a point confirmed by some congressional aides.

"It puts us in a little bit of a bind when we did what we were asked and then were hit with questions about, 'Where is the legislation?' " the White House aide said.


In recent days, as some members of Congress have complained about the delays, polls have shown that some Americans are doubtful that a complete administration health plan even exists.

White House advisers, while playing down those polls and insisting that Americans are committed to the plan's principles, hope that the "relaunch" will address those problems.

The aide said the administration proposed in August to submit the plan to Congress in skeletal form -- as "legislative specs" -- immediately after the speech by Mr. Clinton. But they were urged by senior members of the House and Senate to take their time in developing the bill, the aide said.

Those lawmakers argued that the bill was "too important and just too historic" to be sent to Congress in the outline version in which tax legislation is first sent to committees, the aide said.

Administration officials believed that a delayed introduction of the bill would allow Congress to begin hearings with a general review of health care issues that could proceed without the bill.

Instead, congressional committees were soon cross-examining administration witnesses, such as Donna E. Shalala, the secretary of health and human services, about the plan and complaining about the slow pace of the drafting effort.

The hearings were "a little different than what we expected," the senior White House aide said.

The aide said it may have been a mistake for Mrs. Clinton to testify the week after the plan's debut, because that appearance raised expectations about the pace of introduction that were let down when the White House failed to complete the draft.


Some of the loudest complaints about the delays have come from Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, the Illinois Democrat who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who warned last week that his committee would not be rushed by a late submission of the bill.

Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, joked that the plan had been lost for so long that soon its text would appear on milk containers with the question, "Have you seen this plan?"