- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2001

White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said yesterday that President Bush will veto a bipartisan patients bill of rights backed by the Democratic leadership, setting up a confrontation between the White House and the Senates new Democratic majority as it prepares to tackle the first issue on its legislative agenda.
"The president would like to sign a patients bill of rights bill, but he will not sign Kennedy-McCain in its current form," Mr. Card said on "Fox News Sunday." He was referring to a measure co-sponsored by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, that would allow patients to sue health maintenance organizations (HMOs) for awards of up to $5 million in federal court and seek punitive damages.
Mr. Bush also opposes a provision of Kennedy-McCain that would allow patients to sue in state courts, where there are no limits to monetary damages.
"This is a trial lawyers bill, not a patients bill of rights … and it should be changed," Mr. Card said. The bills sponsors say they already have the votes to get it passed in the Senate.
The White House favors another bipartisan patients rights measure, jointly sponsored by Sen. Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican; Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat; and independent Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont. It, too, would allow patients to sue insurance companies and HMOs for denying necessary medical care.
But the bill the president supports would cap noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering, at $500,000 in such suits and would not allow punitive damages.
On Fox, Mr. Card said: "We think there is room for compromise … plenty of room to negotiate" to resolve differences between the two bills. But he said he is worried that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, is "closing the door" on further negotiations, "based on comments he made last week."
Mr. Daschle, interviewed yesterday on CBS "Face the Nation," said: "Im willing to talk some more. But I dont want to water down the bill to make it meaningless."
In a separate interview on CNNs "Late Edition," Mr. Daschle reiterated that theme. "Were willing to talk, to listen," he said. As for compromise, the Senates top man said Democrats have been compromising on this issue during the past several years.
"We have compromised and compromised. This is a case study in compromise," he said.
In the Fox interview, Mr. Daschle said he was "disappointed" by Mr. Cards "rhetoric and veto threat."
This is not the first time the Bush White House has threatened to veto the Kennedy-McCain bill, which it feels will drive up health care costs and ultimately cause many people to lose coverage.
But on Capitol Hill last week, some Republicans and Democrats alike were privately predicting that the president might end up supporting Kennedy-McCain in an effort to co-opt a strong Democratic issue before next years midterm elections.
Mr. Daschle promised Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat and another sponsor of the bill, that the patients rights bill would be the first order of business the Democratic-led Senate takes up after completing work on the education reform bill. There was speculation yesterday that could happen by the end of the week.
Mr. McCain also appeared on "Face the Nation" yesterday. Despite Mr. Cards threat of a presidential veto, the Arizona Republican said he believes hes "making progress" in getting Bush administration officials to agree to his version of proposed legislation to protect patients rights.
"Were in agreement on most issues… . But theres a lot of very fierce opposition on both sides to this legislation," Mr. McCain said.
He said he thinks the "state court issue can be resolved," noting that Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist has "sharply criticized Congress for passing laws that drive everything into the federal courts."
Nearly all proponents of Kennedy-McCain who appeared on yesterdays news talk shows pointed out that the patients rights law in effect in Mr. Bushs home state of Texas, which was passed when he was governor, allows such suits to be filed in state courts.
Mr. Kennedy, who discussed the bill on ABCs "This Week," said he knows of 63 Republicans in the House who support it. "And every single health organization is supporting this bill. Not one is supporting the presidents bill. I think well pass it," he said.
But Mr. Breaux questioned what good it would be to pass Kennedy-McCain when theres a "clear message from the White House they arent going to sign it."
Mr. Breaux said that what is needed are negotiations to hammer out differences between his bill and Kennedy-McCain and arrive at a bill "that can actually become law."
Mr. Breaux stressed that both bills have a lot of similarities. "They are very common, and there should be a way of getting this done," he said.
This is the second time in recent weeks Mr. Breaux has opposed the Senate Democratic leadership on an important issue. Earlier, the Louisiana Democrat helped draft a compromise bill that enabled Mr. Bush to win congressional approval for a 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut, which the president signed into law last week.
In other developments, Mr. Daschle said he expects that Republican leaders today will send him their response to a Democratic plan for reorganizing the Senate under Democratic control.
On CNNs "Late Edition," Mr. Daschle said he expects a vote on the reorganization sometime this week. "We cant wait much longer," he said.
Republicans have said they want a guarantee that all of Mr. Bushs judicial and executive nominees will be sent to the floor and voted on in the Senate. Asked repeatedly whether he will give them that assurance, Mr. Daschle said, "Were going to be as fair as we possibly can."

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