- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2003

The Medicare prescription-drug bill will no doubt be a flash point in many congressional races in the upcoming election cycle, but the political fallout for some is beginning already.

The Republican Main Street Partnership began running a radio ad Wednesday against Rep. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, for voting with 24 other conservatives against the $395 billion bill President Bush is set to sign Monday. Mr. Toomey, who said the bill didn’t adequately reform Medicare and was too costly, is running in the Republican primary for the Senate seat of Sen. Arlen Specter, whom the partnership backs.

“Pat Toomey slammed the door on President Bush, who championed the Medicare bill,” says the ad, which airs on a Harrisburg station through Dec. 16.

Republicans are using the Medicare bill vote to criticize Democratic challengers as well. Three Republicans challenging Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, immediately attacked him for voting against the bill, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on Nov. 26.

“I think Russ Feingold really turned his back on Wisconsin by voting against this historic package,” candidate Bob Welch, a state senator, told the Sentinel in a phone interview. Business executive Tim Michels and car dealer Russ Darrow, who also are vying for Mr. Feingold’s seat, said similar things in the article.

Rep. George Nethercutt, a Washington Republican seeking the nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, wasted no time in criticizing Mrs. Murray’s “no” vote, the Tacoma News Tribune reported Nov. 26.

“Clearly, this could be an issue in a lot of the competitive Senate races,” said Dan Allen, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “It’s one more issue Republicans can point to and say we’ve accomplished something that the Democrats couldn’t.”

In House races, National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Carl Forti agreed the Medicare vote will be a key issue next year. He said House Democrats who already were vulnerable will be more so because they voted against the bill. Those include Baron P. Hill of Indiana, Tim Holden of Pennsylvania, Darlene Hooley of Oregon, Leonard L. Boswell of Iowa and maybe Lloyd Doggett and Chet Edwards, both of Texas, depending on the outcome of that state’s redistricting.

But Democrats say they still maintain credibility with voters on the Medicare issue and predict it will be Republicans defending themselves.

“The Republican Medicare bill presents tremendous opportunities for Democratic candidates in 2004,” said Rep. Robert T. Matsui, California Democrat and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “We’ll make sure seniors understand that its limited benefits are a Trojan horse for giveaways to HMOs and drug companies that will keep their drug costs high and threaten Medicare.”

DCCC spokesman Greg Speed said a group of House Republicans who were the target of DCCC Medicare ads this past summer remain vulnerable in 2004 because they supported the Medicare bill and represent areas with many seniors. They include Reps. Mike D. Rogers of Alabama, Bob Beauprez of Colorado, E. Clay Shaw Jr. of Florida, Max Burns of Georgia, Sam Graves of Missouri, Charles Bass of New Hampshire, and Heather A. Wilson and Steve Pearce, both of New Mexico.

“This is a campaign issue that is going to cut both ways,” said Brad Woodhouse, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

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