GOVERNORS meeting at the National Governors' Association gathering in Tulsa, Okla., pledged Aug. 16 to mount an aggressive bipartisan push to get congressional approval of the free-trade pact with Mexico and Canada.
Privately, several Democratic and Republican governors have complained that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was in political trouble because President Clinton had not made a forceful argument for its passage.
The agreement, already approved in Mexico and Canada, presents a thorny political issue for the president because of the deep opposition within his party and its allies in organized labor.
But Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman said the governors' concerns about Mr. Clinton's commitment to the pact were unfounded. "We intend to fight tooth and nail for this agreement," Mr. Altman said. "NAFTA is part of this administration's economic package, a central part."
Another administration official, speaking privately, said Clinton wanted to push for passage of the trade pact this fall and simultaneously lobby for his health-care plan.
Clinton opened his campaign for health-care overhaul Aug. 16, promising coverage to all Americans and urging Republicans to support him. But immediate protests from GOP governors underscored the uncertain, partisan path awaiting his landmark proposal.
Clinton offered few specifics of the plan, the first effort by a president to require universal health coverage. But his senior health-care adviser, Ira Magaziner, offered some details, and disputed the Republican contention that an employer mandate would be a job-killer.
Mr. Magaziner said the plan would be phased in over five to seven years and ultimately require big employers to pay 80 percent of their employees' premiums. That would cost about 7 percent to 7.5 percent of payroll, he said.
Small firms would be offered sliding-scale subsidies, with tiny firms required to pay no more than 4 percent of payroll. That money would come from a pool, in the range of $30 billion to $40 billion, financed by savings in federal health spending.
Magaziner said the president had not yet decided whether to propose new "sin taxes" on alcohol or tobacco or both.
Clinton will release his plan in a speech to Congress next month and use the next few weeks to make the political case and try to secure public - and Republican - support. "I never want to go through another six months where we have to get all of our votes within one party," Clinton said, a reference to the bruising budget fight. Footing the bill
Sponsors for the governors' meeting include two companies that operate state lotteries. Officials say the donations have nothing to do with bids to start a lottery in Oklahoma.
GTECH Corporation and Scientific Games Inc., which operate lotteries for several states, contributed a total of $40,000 to help defray the expenses. GTECH was among a dozen executive-host- committee sponsors that gave $30,000 each. Scientific Games was among 41 corporate sponsors that gave $10,000.
Oklahoma Gov. David Walters (D), who initiated a petition drive for a lottery to raise funds principally for higher-education research, said the governor's office had nothing to do with raising funds for the meeting.
Enough signatures were gathered on petitions calling for the lottery, but two lawsuits have been filed in Oklahoma Supreme Court challenging the petitions. Supporters had hoped for an election this fall on the lottery, but the lawsuits are expected to delay that.
Ron Bogler, executive director of the planning staff for the convention, said he understands that lottery companies have contributed to other governors' association meetings. He said the lottery companies were not solicited for donations.
"I didn't even know who GTECH was until they approached us," he said.
The convention is costing about $1 million.
During the meeting, some governors have openly criticized the influence of special-interest lobbyists on the congressional process.
Governor Walters said "there are trade-offs and nothing is perfect, but this [corporate sponsorship] is better than the alternative" of having taxpayers pay for the session.