Agenda Shifts From Health Care To Jesse Jackson

PRESIDENT Clinton recently received two pieces of unsettling news that came out of Monitor breakfast sessions with public figures - the first from House Speaker Thomas Foley and the other from the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

At an Aug. 23 breakfast, Mr. Foley signaled the end of Mr. Clinton's hopes for some sort of comprehensive health-care reform in this session of Congress.

Foley, effectively throwing in the towel on current efforts for broad reform by approving an incremental approach, said that ``significant, if partial, steps toward such wider coverage and cost controls would be a worthwhile achievement.''

Foley told reporters that Congress could put the issue off until next year or ``try and find legislation that can pass and make significant, if initial, steps towards the goals of coverage, avoidance of cost shifting, maintenance of quality, all those things, including some strategies for controlling cost.''

Until these words were spoken, the health-care legislation was definitely on Congress's agenda, already being debated in the Senate. But as soon as it became known that the Speaker had in effect given up the ship, the word went out around Washington that comprehensive health care was being relegated to the back burner, at least for the time being.

When invitations went out for the breakfast with Mr. Jackson, some reporters were less than enthusiastic about the prospect of rising at an early hour to listen to what this prominent black politician had to say. ``What can Jackson say that will be all that important?,'' some of them grumbled.

Well, all that Jackson did was let us know that he is seriously thinking of running for president in 1996, either as a Democrat in the primary or as an independent. Suddenly, Jackson, who has proved himself a potent presidential candidate in the past, was big news.

He might not be able to gain the nomination; but his participation as a proven big-vote getter could mean big trouble for Clinton in '96. Indeed, as an independent, Jackson could defeat Clinton by drawing votes away from him, much as Ross Perot probably defeated President Bush by drawing votes away from him in 1992.

Jackson indicated that he is ready to wage a highly critical, hard-slashing campaign against a president for whom he stumped in 41 states in '92. He indicated he had ``had it'' with Clinton. Asked to grade the president, Jackson said, ``I'd give him an A on rhetoric and promise and a D on delivery.'' He was particularly critical of the crime bill, which he called a ``very expensive non-solution'' to inner-city problems. He called the crime bill ``a wolf in sheep's clothing.'' Then, referring to Clinton's campaign promises to help the poor, Jackson said, ``The bottom line is that urban America is more abandoned than ever.''

It is true that Jackson has pretty much dropped off of the front pages of late. His continuing efforts to help the disadvantaged only occasionally have reached that level of public attention. But as a presidential candidate? His presence could set off a lot of excitement.

Reporters now are remembering Jackson's performance in the presidential primaries in 1988: At one point he was in reach of grabbing the nomination, only to lose it near the end to a surging Michael Dukakis. They also recall that the dominant figure at the Democratic National Convention that year was Jackson.

At one point at the breakfast Jackson was asked whether he now had become a ``threat'' to the president. He smiled and said, ``I'm Clinton's therapy, not his threat.'' He said he would wait until next year on a final decision for running against the president.

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