WASHINGTON — THE conventional wisdom in political circles these days is that the Clinton campaign has been keeping the Democratic leaders of Congress at arm's length.
In a year when voters are angry at incumbent politicians and Congress is one of the least esteemed institutions in the country, members of Congress may not be a campaign's best symbols of change.
But at a Monitor breakfast on Aug. 11, Senate majority leader George Mitchell of Maine held that Mr. Clinton's standoffish attitude has been greatly exaggerated.
More important, Mr. Mitchell foresees a Clinton administration with policy goals similar to his own - and presumably those of the other Democrats who run Congress.
For example, if Clinton wins the election, Mitchell would expect to pass a comprehensive reform of the health care system early in the next Congress.
The majority leader has been working for over a year now to build a consensus among Senate Democrats on health-care reform. "We're close to one," he says.
Mitchell describes the Senate consensus as partly based on employer health plans, partly on a single public payer as in Canada. There would also be some help for small business to afford health-insurance costs.
Clinton has suggested similar plans, but he adds strong cost regulation by capping the nation's total health-care spending.
Clinton has not downplayed his partisan links to Congress, Mitchell says.
The candidate chose a senator as a high-visibility running mate, he appears on the dais regularly with members of Congress, and he met very publicly Aug. 9 with Sen. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia and Rep. Les Aspin (D) of Wisconsin to discuss defense policy.
Bush's attacks on Congress "resonate" with the public, Mitchell admits, but he argues that they hurt the president anyway because people are seeking a more positive vision.