- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2003

Republicans who voted against the expansion of Medicare are telling the White House and congressional leaders not to retaliate.

After an extended period of arm-twisting by the White House and Republican congressional leaders, the measure passed just before Congress left town for Thanksgiving recess.

“The White House won, so it should see no need to retaliate — it would be self-defeating,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of nine Republicans in the Senate who voted against the measure, which President Bush is expected to sign Monday.

Republicans on both sides of the Medicare issue cited the practical politics of re-electing a Republican president. The White House convinced the Republican leadership that supporting a Medicare drug benefit would rob Democrats of the argument that Mr. Bush’s conservatism shows no compassion for seniors.

But that tactic also divided Republican lawmakers, triggered a rebellion by advocates of limited government and threatened to alienate a portion of the party’s conservative voter base.

Mr. Graham warned Republican leaders not to “push people too far,” which he said was a problem when Newt Gingrich was House speaker.

“If you have to twist people’s arms over and over to vote for you, on issue after issue, from grants versus loans to Iraq to prescription-drug benefits, then you would be wise to re-evaluate your own positions,” Mr. Graham said.

Pointing to the House Republicans who defied the leadership and voted against the bill, Mr. Graham said, “It took more courage for them than for us in the Senate because House leaders have the all-important power to control committee assignments.”

Nine Senate Republicans and 25 House Republicans opposed the Medicare reform bill, mostly because they thought the huge new entitlement for prescription drugs violated the principle of limited government and that the costs were already out of control.

“The ‘no’ votes show that limited-government conservatism is still alive but struggling in a very unfriendly environment,” former House Majority Leader Dick Armey said.

Mr. Armey, who is chairman of Citizens for a Sound Economy, called passage of the Medicare bill “pragmatic politics crowding out principle” and said leadership pressure took its toll on otherwise conservative Republican legislators.

“There are more limited-government Republicans in the House than those 25 who voted no,” he said.

Grover Norquist, chairman of Americans for Tax Reform, said Republicans “who voted ‘no’ showed that the commitment to limited government is alive and well after all. They were willing to stand up to incredible pressure from the White House.”

But Mr. Norquist added, “If I thought there were only 25 limited-government conservatives in the House, I would go stick my head in the oven and end it all.”

Rep. Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican who opposed the bill, said there should be little reason for retribution.

“My experience is that this [Republican] majority is interested in winning much more than in payback,” Mr. Pence said. “All 25 of us were took a principled stand without regard to our personal interests, and the leadership will very likely accept its victory and move on.”

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, insisted the measure was a win for conservatives.

“We won an important political and policy victory for conservatives by passing the Medicare reform bill,” he said. “Our choice was to pass a $400 billion Medicare reform with a prescription drug benefit or a trillion-dollar Ted Kennedy-sponsored entitlement bill with no reform.”

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