- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2001

President Bush yesterday chided lawmakers for their lethargic pace on his ambitious agenda, warning Congress "to not get stuck in the process" of endless debate and paralysis by analysis.
With Congress back in session for just three weeks before taking all of August off, Mr. Bush prodded both chambers to move forward quickly on three of his most coveted agenda items: an education-reform package, a faith-based initiative and the patients' bill of rights, which he recently adopted as his own.
"This Congress needs to get an education-reform bill on my desk before the summer recess," Mr. Bush said. "We had a bill pass out of the House by a broad margin, a bill pass out of the Senate by a broad margin. There is no need for further delay."
The president used his first day back from a four-day vacation to try to regain leverage over Congress, which also returned from a recess yesterday. Lawmakers have made little progress on his top agenda items — with the exception of the $1.35 trillion tax cut — and are well behind schedule on confirming his nominations for major federal positions.
While Congress worked remarkably fast to pass the across-the-board tax cut, action has since slowed to a snail's pace. For instance, both chambers passed education-reform bills last month, but neither the House nor the Senate has appointed conferees to reconcile them.
Although Mr. Bush used a "team spirit" theme to spur Congress to action, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer used stronger language yesterday, accusing the Democratic-controlled Senate of stalling on the education-reform bill.
"The new Senate is placing less attention on education than the previous Senate did. The Senate is now a Democratic Senate, and I think there's no question that if the Senate were under Republican control, education would have been done," he said.
But the spokesman rejected the notion that Democrats are trying to "thwart" the Bush agenda.
"We're entering a new phase with the Congress where there is a lot of hard work that gets done by the Congress, traditionally, before they leave for the August recess. The president is sending a note to the Congress today — 'Before you leave for recess, address these priorities of the people: education reform, patient bill of rights, and faith-based solutions to people who have big, intractable problems in our society,'" Mr. Fleischer said.
"Those are the three items that the president thinks are on America's front burner."
Mr. Bush, surrounded by children at a Rose Garden event, said: "It's important for the Congress to pass the education-reform package to make sure no child gets left behind. It's important for Congress to pass a good and meaningful patients' bill of rights to make sure all in America have got good access to health care. And it's important for America for Congress to pass my faith-based initiative so that government can stand side by side with the soldiers in the armies of compassion to make sure America's promise is rich and real for every citizen," the president said.
"I urge Congress to not get stuck in the process, but to think about the results, and to pass meaningful legislation that will allow and encourage and foster faith-based groups all across America to help people in need," he said.
Some Bush officials realize the faith-based initiative has the longest road to passage. The proposal is finally moving slowly through House committees, but no senator has yet stepped forward to champion it.
"We may not get this through before recess, but we're sure going to try," one administration official said. "And if not then, soon."
His other priorities for Congress are much nearer to fruition. The education-reform bill has passed both chambers with bipartisian support and there is broad consensus on many facets of a bill to increase the rights of patients.
"The Congress must act on a patients' bill of rights, a good patients' bill of rights, one that recognizes patients are important — not lawyers that encourages quality health care without encouraging frivolous and junk lawsuits," Mr. Bush said.
"We've got the makings for a good bill, and Congress ought to act and bring me a bill so I can sign it before the August recess."
The White House remains opposed to a bill that passed the Senate last month. It threatened a veto over provisions allowing patients to sue health maintenance organizations. Mr. Bush supports a House version that allows patients to sue for unlimited economic damages but would cap noneconomic damages at $500,000 — substantially lower than the figure allowed in the Senate bill.
Mr. Bush is closest to home on his education-reform plan, which will use federal aid as leverage with failing schools and measure school performance by annually testing students in math and reading. Polls show Americans consider education their No. 1 issue and support making schools accountable.
Polls also show Americans favor a patient-protection bill, a position pushed by Democrats and recently embraced by the Bush administration. Mr. Bush traveled to Inova Fair Oaks Hospital in Fairfax County yesterday to underscore his push for such legislation.
He goes today to New York City for a naturalization event at the Statue of Liberty and a memorial service at St. Patrick's Cathedral where he will award a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal to Cardinal John O'Connor.

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