- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2003

Democrats will force Republicans to choose between President Bush's tax cut and a broader prescription drug program as part of Medicare, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said yesterday.
With the war in Iraq winding down, Democrats say, Americans' attention is turning back to domestic issues. Debate on most of those issues would play out on the tax-cut field, Mr. Kennedy told reporters as he laid out priorities for Congress upon its return from a two-week recess next week.
Mr. Kennedy said Democrats will offer an amendment forcing senators to choose between the $350 billion tax-cut bill that will be produced by the Senate Finance Committee or putting that money into a prescription drug package, which would be nearly twice as large as the 10-year, $400 billion Republican plan.
"It will be presented in the Senate as an alternative: We can either have a good [prescription drug] program in that range, or the tax cut," Mr. Kennedy said.
If Republicans hold firm, Mr. Kennedy said, a $400 billion Medicare package is feasible, though it would have to be phased in over more time. He said a bipartisan agreement is possible because both parties essentially agree on the components but differ on the delivery method for a new prescription drug benefit.
Top Republicans in both the House and Senate have said they must produce a prescription-drug package this year as a symbol that they can pass important legislation, now that they control both the legislative and executive branches of government.
Mr. Kennedy said if Republicans failed to produce prescription drug legislation they would suffer a fate similar to that of the Democrats, who lost both the House and Senate in a Republican electoral tidal wave in 1994. However, Mr. Kennedy stopped short of predicting a clean sweep for the Democrats in 2004.
"Impressed as I am with sort of the arrogancy that we have seen on issue after issue that's come before us, I have every expectation we are going to be successful either in the Senate, House or the president possibly all three, but that would be a reach," he said.
While noting attention had shifted to domestic issues, Mr. Kennedy one of the more vocal opponents of the president's Iraq policy before the war said yesterday Mr. Bush "deserves credit" for the way the military campaign was executed.
The tax cut bills won't be on the Senate floor immediately after the recess. Judges top the list for the first few days, with a vote on Jeffrey S. Sutton, whom the president nominated to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, scheduled for early next week.
Mr. Kennedy said he and other opponents of Mr. Sutton don't have enough support to block his confirmation.
As for another pending nominee, Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, who was nominated two years ago to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Mr. Kennedy said he hadn't seen a vote count but that opposition to her was strong.
"I was surprised at the strength of opposition for Priscilla Owen in the Democratic Caucus, particularly by the women in the caucus that spoke virtually uniformly against Priscilla Owen," he said.
Republicans likely have enough votes to confirm Justice Owen on a majority vote, but Democrats are considering a filibuster. That would require Republicans to get 60 votes for confirmation and would put Justice Owen in the same company as Miguel Estrada, nominated by the president for the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, who is facing a months-long filibuster from 44 Democrats and the chamber's lone independent.

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