WHEN President Clinton addresses the nation's governors tomorrow in Boston, the final phase of an epic battle for national health-care reform will be under way.
With the hour growing late, Mr. Clinton is making a bold gambit. Dismissing suggestions for a middle-of-the-road compromise, and bashing Republicans, he is demanding congressional approval of three central principles that have guided his search for a new US health-care system.
The president is appealing for broad support from the public for a plan that provides universal coverage, requires mandatory funding by business, and includes tough cost controls.
Anything less will leave ``the future of middle-class America [and the economy] in doubt,'' Clinton told an audience in Greenburg, Pa.
As many as a half-dozen Cabinet and sub-Cabinet officials and a dozen White House aides have descended on the National Governors' Association meeting in Boston this week to support the president's lobbying effort on health care.
But less than an hour before Clinton addresses the summer meeting of the governors, Senate Republican leader Robert Dole of Kansas will speak to the same audience of state chief executives.
Senator Dole sees the health-care fight getting rough. ``It's going to get kind of ugly, I think, in the next few weeks,'' he warns.
White House officials bill the Clinton-Dole appearances in Boston as virtually a head-to-head debate on health care. But the confrontation could challenge the governors' traditional bipartisan approach to issues.
Previously, the governors have called for ``universal access,'' something less than Clinton's ``universal coverage,'' for all Americans. The governors have also previously supported the concept that health insurance be ``portable,'' but have not demanded that employers pay for it - positions that sound closer to Dole than Clinton.