- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 1, 2001

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, in his first big test in power, succeeded in ramming through a Democratic health-care bill with a determination that Democrats applauded and Republicans called pointless.
The South Dakota Democrat met his arbitrary deadline of approving the so-called Patients' Bill of Rights before the Senate's Fourth of July recess and built a coalition that fought off Republican efforts to lessen the effects of lawsuits.
"I think he's done extremely well," said Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat and sponsor of a rival bill supported by the White House. "He's been forceful, he's been extremely active in putting together a coalition of groups that have lobbied this on the outside. And this [assessment] comes from someone who's on the other side, so I can tell you with some degree of authority."
But Republicans said President Bush promised to veto the legislation because of concerns about higher health insurance premiums, larger numbers of uninsured employees and new avenues for lawsuits.
"I'd be shocked if the president signed this bill," said Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican. "We have wasted 21/2 weeks — that's my assessment. It was an exercise in futility. It's to try to build campaign issues to be used against Republicans."
The key differences between the White House and Senate Democrats are over court remedies available to aggrieved patients and their families. The bill the Senate passed would have federal courts hearing contract disputes and state courts judging medical malpractice. The president says federal courts are sufficient.
The Senate legislation also allows punitive damages up to $5 million, with no limits on damages for pain and suffering; a House Republican alternative bars punitive damages and caps pain and suffering awards at $500,000.
When Mr. Daschle took over as majority leader June 6, he announced that he would bring the managed-care bill to the floor as his first priority and that he was finished compromising with Republicans on it. Republicans at the time vowed to dig in their heels.
"Can you imagine what he would have said if Trent Lott came out with something like that?" said Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Republicans. "Tom Daschle comes out … says he isn't going to compromise, and that we're going to finish it in 10 days. There are some lessons to be learned here. When the shoe is on the other foot, you've got to remember when you were in the minority."
Mr. Daschle set Friday as the deadline for finishing the bill because that was the scheduled start of the weeklong congressional Fourth of July vacation. As debate dragged on, the majority leader threatened to cancel the recess to finish the bill.
He also delayed Senate action on a stop-gap Pentagon spending bill, raising complaints from Republicans that he risked military readiness for his own political purposes.
"It was important to maintain discipline," Mr. Daschle said Friday, speaking with his arms folded. "I do feel a sense of great satisfaction."
Democrats, of course, were encouraged by Mr. Daschle's resolve.
"He got this important bill up … and stayed with it and moved it through to enactment," said Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, Maryland Democrat. "I think he handled it very well. He had a gentle firmness."
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat, said, "It was a serious effort at showing that the Senate can be governed responsibly and fairly and without any sense of payback retribution."
Others said the legislation was something of a no-brainer because the Senate approved a similar bill a year ago.
"I think he benefited from legislation that … everybody feels is a fait accompli," said Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican. "It's a lot easier to lead when you have a horse to ride that everybody feels will get to the finish line. But he's persevered."
Sen. Lincoln Chafee, a Rhode Island Republican who frequently votes with Democrats, said senators were "disappointed about bumping up against the recess." And he suggested the Democratic leader was in a rush to bring up liberal agenda items in a short time before the Senate must consider appropriations bills.
"He's anxious to get some of the so-called Democratic bills up forward for debate and votes," Mr. Chafee said. "Minimum wage is coming next, and some of the old standbys like prescription drugs."
Some senators said Mr. Daschle bit off more of an agenda than he could chew with the pledge to finish the health-care bill, military spending bill and a reorganization resolution by the recess.
"He clearly over-reached for this weekend, and he's had to pull back a little on what he promised he would do," said Sen. Robert F. Bennett, Utah Republican. "He had a goal to ram this bill through, and he rammed it through."
The Senate approved the reorganization Friday night, more than three weeks after Democrats took control. But the military spending bill will have to wait until after the recess, when a conference committee with the House can convene.
One of the Democrats' most recalcitrant members, Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, nevertheless said he approved of Mr. Daschle's management of the health-care bill.
"When you look at the difficulty of the proposal, and the time frame that it was done in, and all the different groups that had to be brought together, the number of votes that were taken, I think it was just a very impressive job," Mr. Miller said. "I would hope that the president won't veto a reasonable bill, and I think this bill has been improved upon."

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