President Clinton plans to jump-start his last year in office with a road tour to promote his policies and ward off the lame duck status that he says makes him feel "like I'm a witness at my own funeral."
Along with a heavy fund-raising schedule this spring, he'll be making several out-of-town appearances that the White House hopes will push Congress to act on several thorny pieces of his legislative agenda.
"We take the unconventional line that things can actually occur in election years," said Chris Jennings, the White House's health care policy specialist.
Aides said Clinton plans road trips to promote several major legislative initiatives: prescription drugs for Medicare patients, gun control, a raise in the minimum wage, a trade deal with China and better consumer control over health care.
Monday in Cleveland, the president planned to promote his plan to cover prescription drug bills as part of the federal Medicare program that serves most older Americans. House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt and Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala planned to be there, along with a group of elderly Midwesterners who struggle to pay for their medication.
It is Clinton's first major foray outside Washington to address the prescription drug issue this year, and the opening of what White House strategists call a calculated effort to put a little hometown pressure on Congress. Similar theme events are tentatively scheduled throughout the spring, said one aide who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"We want members of Congress to hear it from their constituents, from outside Washington," the official said.
Clinton has called the China trade deal the most important thing before Congress this year. His chief lobbyist on the China deal, Commerce Secretary William Daley, acknowledged last week that the administration now lacks the votes to pass it.
The outlook may be slightly brighter for the drug plan, which is competing with a narrower GOP version. The president wants to give patients the right to sue their health plans if they are denied care.
Regarding gun control, Clinton wants to ban importation of large-capacity ammunition clips, impose background checks on buyers at gun shows and require more safety devices for handguns.
Minimum wage legislation is in limbo after the House voted to raise it last week but added tax cuts for business that the White House calls unacceptable.
Clinton's aides say there is some Republican support for his goals and bipartisan self-interest in passing some legislation before the fall elections.
The White House acknowledges its best hope for passing contentious legislation in the Republican-led Congress comes before summer, when the political parties select their presidential nominees and legislators begin their own fall campaigns in earnest.
The even larger deadline, of course, is the end of the administration itself next January.
"When people talk about me now, I feel like I'm a witness at my own funeral," Clinton said in a speech to visiting city officials Sunday. "You know, I've got nearly a year left in office, and a lot of energy, and I've got a few ideas about what to do with the remaining time."
Some of that energy will be spent raising political money across the country, which offers an expeditious way to schedule the out-of-town "message events." The prescription drug speech, arranged just a few days ago, follows a fund-raising lunch for House Democrats in Cleveland that has been on Clinton's schedule for weeks.
— AP contributed to this report