President Clinton shrugged off waning public support for his health-care reform plan Wednesday as the inevitable result of millions of dollars "spent by interest groups to trash the plan."
"In the end . . . I think we'll get it done," he insisted.
The White House is trying to maintain momentum for its plan while Congress moves ahead slowly with deliberations and critics savage the plan in public. Americans' doubts about the plan are rising as the process creeps forward, polls show.
Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, waving copies of the latest polls, told the Senate that Clinton's proposal was probably "dead in its present form."
" The more time this program is around, the lower it's going to sink in the polls," Dole said.
Divisions in the Democrats' ranks have led key committees to delay work drafting health legislation. The House Energy and Commerce Committee said Wednesday it will bypass subcommittees and try to write a bill in the full committee, but it won't start until April.
Clinton tried to sound optimistic when reporters questioned him about two new polls showing that while a solid majority of Americans once had supported his health-care plan, they now are about evenly divided.
"How could it be otherwise?" Clinton asked. "Look at the millions and millions and millions of dollars that have been spent by interest groups to trash the plan."
He said entrenched interests are resisting change. "And the people who are doing well in the present system devote a lot of money and time to stopping the change. But I still am actually pretty optimistic about this," he said.
Critics in Congress and outside of government charge that Clinton's plan is too bureaucratic, would limit American's health care choices and would put too heavy a burden on businesses.
Dole said Republicans, who gather today and Friday for a health care retreat in Annapolis, Md., should seek compromise on a plan to help the millions of people who have no health insurance.
"There's got to be a better way," Dole said.
The president's health plan would not pay for long-term care in a nursing home, but it would create a new program to provide help in the home and community for people who cannot go about their everyday routines without assistance. This new program would be phased in, with the federal government picking up most costs and states paying 5 percent to 22 percent of the bills.
While Congress is already under pressure to scale back some of the benefits Clinton has promised, senior-citizen groups are lobbying to keep long-term-care coverage in the plan.