- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2000

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott yesterday rejected President Clinton's proposed deal in which he would sign a bill to eliminate the so-called marriage penalty tax if congressional Republicans pass a plan for Medicare prescription drug coverage.

Although he accused Republicans of passing "reckless tax cuts" that serve special interests and threaten to derail his plan to wipe out the government's debt by 2012, Mr. Clinton said Saturday there was still time for a bipartisan deal on a plan to insure drug costs for senior citizens and people with disabilities.

Mr. Lott, interviewed on "Fox News Sunday," said he hopes the White House and Congress can work out a bill to provide prescription drug benefits for seniors that Mr. Clinton will sign.

"But it's not going to be one that provides prescription drug subsidies of the federal taxpayers' dollars to everybody," said the Mississippi Republican.

"Bill Gates? Donald Trump? We're going to subsidize their prescription drugs? Please," the Republican leader said.

The Republican plan for prescription drug benefits would rely heavily on the private sector to sell insurance policies and would cost an estimated $40 billion over five years. The government would pay private insurance companies 30 percent to 35 percent of their drug costs for Medicare patients.

Mr. Clinton has proposed a voluntary Medicare prescription drug benefit that would begin in 2002 with a $25 annual premium. The plan would have no deductible and cover half of all prescription drug costs up to $5,000 when fully phased in. It also would limit all out-of-pocket medication costs for catastrophic illnesses to $4,000 under new provisions the president recently added to the plan.

Mr. Clinton's proposal would give seniors prescription drug benefits under the Medicare program at a cost of $195 billion over 10 years. The 10-year price tag would rise to $253 billion if the government picks up the tab for catastrophic drug costs beyond $4,000 a year.

In his weekly radio address Saturday, Mr. Clinton criticized the Republicans for failing to respond to his offer.

"I have reached out to Congress and said that if they'll agree to pass a plan that offers affordable Medicare prescription drug coverage to all seniors and people with disabilities, while protecting our hard-won fiscal discipline, I will sign a marriage penalty relief law," the president said.

House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma described the president's offer as "Washington horse-trading."

Mr. Lott offered an even less-flattering assessment yesterday on Fox. "Look, the president is in his all-out political mode. Every speech he makes, everywhere he goes, it's partisan politics," he said.

"He is not engaged with us seriously this year on anything. He's not serious about the prescription drugs. We could come up with something there. And we're going to work to get that done. But we want to help those that need the help," Mr. Lott said.

"We're going to try to do the right thing. And that is get rid of the marriage penalty tax and provide prescription drugs to the elderly poor that really need us. I hope he will join us."

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