WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Newt Gingrich implored members of Ross Perot's political movement yesterday to abandon any talk of forming a third political party, saying such a plan might only wind up getting President Clinton re-elected.
In broadcast interviews, Mr. Gingrich said his GOP initiative rightfully has earned the backing of supporters of the Texas billionaire, who captured 19 percent of the presidential vote in 1992. If GOP conservatives get their support, Republicans "will win a smashing victory" in the 1996 elections, the House speaker said.
But if Perot backers put up their own candidates, he said, "the only person helped by a third party is President Clinton and the liberal Democrats."
"If we split into two factions," he added, "then you can imagine a circumstance where President Clinton could get re-elected, and the Democrats might do even fairly well in the congressional races."
Mr. Gingrich, R-Ga., later sounded similar themes on Mr. Perot's radio call-in show.
He identified the Perot supporters, some of them affiliated with the United We Stand America organization, as "the pro-term limits, anti-tax increase, decentralized-government, shrink-the-bureaucracy folks" that his wing of the Republican Party has done much to satisfy in the first 100 days of the current Congress.
At the same time, Mr. Gingrich struck a conciliatory note toward Mr. Clinton, who said in speech Friday that he hoped to avoid a "pile of vetoes" over domestic legislation the Republican-led Congress passes.
Mr. Gingrich said that Mr. Clinton is "without question" closer to him in his policy view than many other Democrats -- particularly those in Congress.
"Congressional Democrats, having lost control of the House for the first time in 40 years, have rejected every information coming from the American people," he said on the CBS News show "Meet the Press." "I have been truly surprised and frankly saddened at the level of bitterness and the level of nastiness that they've resorted to -- I'm talking about their leadership."
Democratic leaders have put Mr. Clinton in "a difficult position" by pressing him to veto bills coming out of the GOP-led Congress, Mr. Gingrich said.
"He doesn't want to automatically be forced into a veto. I respect that," he said.
Mr. Gingrich said Republicans will soon take another major step toward enacting their agenda when they unveil new budget proposals. Although they will call for deep cutbacks in many costly programs, he sought to assuage fears of older Americans about the fate of Medicare and Medicaid.
Those health programs will remain intact, he said, although they will be changed. "We believe you can remake the system to have a better Medicare, where people have choices including health maintenance organizations, professional plans . . . and medical savings accounts," he said, adding that he planned to talk with Medicare critics and senior citizens "to provide a better Medicare system with more choices."
Four major medical associations and the largest organization of senior citizens, the American Association of Retired Persons, have attacked Republican plans for cuts in the growth of Medicare and Medicaid spending.