WASHINGTON — Two presumed GOP presidential hopefuls challenged the assumptions behind President Clinton's health care reform agenda Saturday and attacked the White House on issues ranging from foreign policy to welfare reform.
Insisting that there is "no crisis" in health care, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) told the Republican National Committee's winter meeting that polls show 85% of all Americans are satisfied with their coverage.
And Jack Kemp, a former GOP congressman and Cabinet member during the George Bush Administration, told the gathering later in the day that Clinton's health care package relies too much on government control.
Without offering a specific alternative, Kemp, now co-director of Empower America, a public policy and advocacy organization, suggested that Republicans should rally behind a plan that relies more on private enterprise.
Dole and Kemp, considered to be among the front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996, appeared before their party faithful as Clinton prepared to address the nation on health care and other issues in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night.
"President Clinton has scared the American people into thinking we've got to radically nationalize and have the government control all the decisions in the marketplace," Kemp told an enthusiastic crowd.
Attacking the President's approach on health care and crime, Kemp said Clinton "ran in the center, but he's turning left."
Dole noted that Congress will begin tackling health care reform when it reconvenes this week and that Republicans have got some "great plans . . . that are almost identical" and "it wouldn't take much to put them all together."
He said he favored a plan put forth several years ago by Lloyd Bentsen, the former Democratic senator from Texas who is now Clinton's Treasury secretary. Dole said it extended coverage for those needing it but did not upset the free-market system of private health insurers.
"We could add some things to make it a pretty good bill," he said.
Kemp also criticized Clinton's handling of foreign affairs. Referring to the warfare in Bosnia, he said that "while your heart goes out to the people of Sarajevo, the Administration just blusters.
"The world leadership developed by Ronald Reagan and George Bush is just being dissipated away," he said.
Turning to welfare reform, Kemp said: "We shouldn't pass health care reform until we pass a radical welfare reform plan and put America back to work."
Dole and Kemp agreed that the immediate task facing Republicans is to overcome their minority position in both houses of Congress. Come November, all 435 House seats, 34 of 100 Senate seats and many state governorships will be up for grabs.
"We have a great opportunity to pick up seven Senate seats, but I'm not sure we're going to be able to do that," Dole said.
"Our party has always been an optimistic party," Kemp added. Referring to the presidency, he said: "We must go out not just in the 50 states. I want to see this party aim at capturing the District of Columbia."
Dole renewed his call for a congressional investigation of the so-called Whitewater affair, which involves questions surrounding the First Family's participation in the Whitewater Development Corp.--an Ozark Mountain vacation resort in which the Clintons invested with a friend, James B. McDougal, in 1978.
McDougal was president of a failed savings and loan and questions have arisen over whether he or the Clintons benefited improperly from their business arrangement.
"If the Democrats don't want to have a (congressional) hearing, they're going to have to suffer the consequences," Dole said, referring to expectations that Republicans will make the matter a campaign issue.
Last week, Atty. Gen. Janet Reno appointed New York attorney Robert B. Fiske Jr. as a special counsel to look into the matter.