- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 19, 2001

The first legislative battle between President Bush and the Democratic-controlled Senate began yesterday, with the Republicans preventing the Democrats from taking up the Kennedy-McCain patients bill of rights that the White House has threatened to veto.
Using the same parliamentary rules that the Democrats used when they were in the minority to block or delay the Bush administrations proposals, Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott objected to a motion yesterday by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to proceed with the bill.
"Because of the changes made in the bill over the weekend, there are a number of senators who want to take a serious look at the details before considering a bill of this magnitude," said Mr. Lotts spokesman, Ron Bonjean. "We would imagine that there are some Democrats who want to read the fine print, too."
The bill was to have been taken up today and was expected to take up anywhere from one to two weeks of debate, with the Republicans planning to offer a number of amendments to change it. But Mr. Lotts objection could possibly delay action on the bill until after the Fourth of July recess.
A Senate Republican leadership official pointed out yesterday that "this is what the Democrats did to the Republicans on the education bill, and it took 2 1/2 weeks before we went to the bill."
The Kennedy-McCain bill, the Democratic leaderships No. 1 priority this year, would effectively create new health care coverage mandates for health insurance plans such as health maintenance organizations by letting people sue in state or federal courts if they are denied care by the plans or by their employers.
But the business community and Mr. Bush oppose the bill, saying it would open up a flood of lawsuits against health care plans and employers who sponsor them, which would drive up health insurance costs and force small businesses especially to abandon their plans, adding thousands to the ranks of the uninsured.
The White House has said Mr. Bush will veto the bill if it reaches his desk in its present form.
"The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Kennedy-McCain bill would increase costs 4.2 percent, which translates into 1.2 million more Americans without health insurance," the National Federation of Independent Business said yesterday.
"And that doesnt even count employers who will stop providing insurance because they fear lawsuits over coverage decisions they dont control," the 600,000-member small business lobby said in a statement.
The White House, in a bid to work out a compromise bill, held at least three White House meetings last week with Senate leaders and staff on both sides of the issue, but there were no breakthroughs as of yesterday. "There has been no substantive movement on their side," a White House official said.
The White House is supporting a compromise patients bill of rights sponsored by Sens. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, and James M. Jeffords of Vermont, whose decision to leave the Republican Party turned the Senate over to the Democrats last month.
Democrats believe they have as many as 53 votes to pass the bill and send it on to the House, which has not acted on health care legislation.
But the administration thinks that opposition by the business community and other groups is reaching critical mass, and that the bill could be substantially changed.
By delaying action on the bill, Mr. Lott and the administration are giving the business lobby and a coalition of other opponents time to mount an ad campaign in key states to build public support for a bill closer to what the administration can accept, Republican strategists said yesterday.

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