- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2001

The White House is forging a new alliance in the Senate between conservative Democrats and Republicans to defeat the Kennedy-McCain patients bill of rights in a showdown with the Senates liberal Democratic leadership.
In what will be the first test of whether President Bush can overcome the narrow majority led by Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, the administration has been working behind the scenes with Sens. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, and Minority Leader Trent Lott on a compromise patients bill of rights that Mr. Bush can support.
The three lawmakers met secretly yesterday morning in the White House with top legislative advisers to the president "to get all of the cards on the table" and lay out a strategy on the patients bill of rights issue that Mr. Daschle intends to call up for action as early as Monday.
Senate Democrats are pushing a bill sponsored by Democratic Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina and Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, that would create new legal rights to sue in state courts and allow judgments of up to $5 million.
The White House has said that it will veto the legislation in its current form, which it considers "a jobs program for trial lawyers."
The more conservative Breaux/Frist bill, which also is co-sponsored by Sen. James M. Jeffords, Vermont independent, would allow new suits in federal court but would cap damages for pain and suffering at $500,000.
"Are we going to make this a bill that gives patients an opportunity to have decisions that they disagree with, by managed care organizations, to get a review and a change in that policy, or is this just going to be a lawyers right-to-sue bill?" Mr. Lott said. "Thats the fundamental difference."
The Mississippi Republican sought the meeting yesterday, signaling that he was aggressively pursuing a tough new strategy to block liberal legislation in the wake of the Democratic takeover. The White House intends to meet tomorrow with both sides in the patients bill of rights dispute.
But Mr. Daschle said yesterday that the Kennedy-Edwards-McCain bill is the one that will pass, despite Mr. Bushs promised veto.
"Were going to be ready to go, offering this bill with the expectation that were going to finish it in a way that we can send the bill on to the president," the South Dakota Democrat said. "There is broad support, and Im confident that when it reaches his desk, that hell at least consider a change of heart and support it, as important as it is."
Democrats also expect to pick up an important House Republican supporter in Rep. Charlie Norwood of Georgia.
Mr. Norwood announced last night that he would hold a news conference today with other Republicans, one of whom, Greg Ganske of Iowa, already has signed on to the House version of the Senate Democrats plan.
A source familiar with the Georgians discussions with the White House told the Associated Press last night that Mr. Norwood, a dentist by profession, had grown frustrated with the administrations stance on limiting lawsuits and would endorse the same House bill.
Nick Calio, Mr. Bushs chief legislative lobbyist, said the White House has worked closely with Democratic allies like Mr. Breaux, who helped pass the administrations tax cuts and budget plan, in a bid to build a larger "bipartisan coalition" behind the rest of Mr. Bushs agenda.
Mr. Calio said that since the Democrats took control of the Senate, "the world has changed, and it will take time to see how dramatically it has changed" the administrations prospects in Congress.
But in an interview with The Washington Times, he said the alliances Mr. Bush made with key Democratic senators on taxes and the budget will help Mr. Bushs proposals on energy, health care, trade and defense.
"The strategy is to move forward on our goals and to build a bipartisan working coalition to achieve those goals," Mr. Calio said.
Mr. Breaux helped bring over nearly a dozen Democratic senators to vote for the tax cuts. "There does seem to be a feeling to find a middle ground. Its certainly an issue that Breaux has been working with the White House on," a Breaux spokesman said yesterday.
Mr. Breaux and his Democratic allies will probably figure prominently in at least three other major legislative battles yet to come. He and Mr. Frist are the co-sponsors of a Medicare reform bill that the administration has embraced as its own. He supports letting workers put part of their payroll taxes into private investment accounts.
Coming from a major oil and gas state, Mr. Breaux also supports Mr. Bushs energy proposals. "We have to increase our energy production. We cant just conserve our way out of this," he said.

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