Clinton on Road, Says He Won’t Cut His Agenda


President Clinton hit the road Monday to sell his legislative package for the first time in six weeks, demonstrating anew two things: He loves to campaign and he refuses to accept the advice of those who say he is pushing too many issues at once.

White House aides billed the trip as a showcase for a new, more focused approach they hope will revitalize Clinton’s slumping poll ratings and the prospects for his program in Congress. But the President’s two speeches here hardly presented a streamlined agenda.

He managed to talk about reducing the deficit, revamping welfare, creating a new health care system, converting the nation’s defense industries to civilian purposes, improving the country’s technology infrastructure, increasing the earned income tax credit, providing opportunities for national service and reforming campaign laws.


“In Washington, we’re told that the most important thing to do is not more than one thing at a time,” Clinton told his audience at the City Club of Cleveland. “I think we can do more than one thing at once.”

Aides said the scatter of topics was actually variations on a theme. “The problem is not that there are too many things but that the things he’s trying to do get separated from the whole,” insisted Clinton adviser Paul Begala. Clinton was trying to “put all of this back into context,” he said.

Clinton conceded he faces some problems in Washington. He tacitly admitted, for example, that he has given up the idea of reviving a slimmed-down version of the economic stimulus plan the Senate defeated last month. After the defeat, Clinton and his aides talked gamely of trying again, but more recently aides have privately stopped making such suggestions.

Asked about it in a question-and-answer session after the City Club speech, Clinton said he was “still trying to assess” whether more money is needed for summer jobs for teen-agers--one of the items that would have been paid for by the stimulus bill. Otherwise, his goal now is to “go on out and pass this budget” and then “see where we are” with the economy, he said.

“Let’s watch this unemployment rate,” he said, and “if we don’t generate new jobs,” then “we can come back and look” at whether another stimulus package will be needed.

After the stimulus plan was defeated, Clinton conceded that perhaps he was trying to do too many things at one time. But his concessions always had a grudging air to them, and Monday he insisted that the problem was not with him but with the system in Washington, a place he described to his audiences as surrounded with lobbyists and weighted down with “preachers of pessimism.”


As he did repeatedly during his election campaign, he cast the issues surrounding his program as a choice between “courage” (his approach) and “the status quo.”

“I think most of you want us to do something, and I think you want us to be bold,” he told a large crowd gathered at the downtown Galleria mall. “I believe you’d rather see us err on the side of effort than on the side of just preserving the status quo.

“We’re trying to do a lot of things, but they all relate to restoring the economic vitality of this country and restoring the middle class.”

Clinton clearly relished the chance to get out and talk with people, to shake hands again and to leave the capital. Clinton reprised one of his favorite gambits from the campaign, wandering the Galleria in search of hands to shake and “ordinary guy” items to buy--in this case two bags of chocolate covered strawberries and a T-shirt and tie at Banana Republic.

And he seemed cheerful, almost exhilarated, albeit a bit rusty, stumbling over some of his lines and garbling others to the point that he at times sounded a bit like his often-tongue-tied predecessor, George Bush.

“I’ve been criticized for doing more than one thing at once. I’ve always felt--can you do one thing at once? Can you do--wouldn’t it be nice if all you had to do was go to work and not take care of your family?” he asked at one point. “I don’t understand this whole, ‘you can’t do one thing at once.’ But, anyway, that’s what they say,” he continued.


Clinton’s aides nevertheless were cheered to see him outside Washington. “He feels great about being back on the road,” said Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers.

“Keeping him in Washington is like hitching a thoroughbred to a plow,” added Begala. White House aides hope to put Clinton on the road at least one day a week from now through at least midsummer. Clinton’s next stop will be Chicago, where he plans to speak at a high school today.