- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2003

MIAMI (AP) — President Bush told a Florida audience of older people yesterday that he expects Congress to work out its differences and send him a Medicare drug benefit to sign into law.

That would allow Mr. Bush as well as many lawmakers to fulfill campaign promises that could help woo elderly voters and give him an antidote to criticism from Democrats.

“I’m confident that the members, when they get back from their Fourth of July breaks, will get to work, iron out the differences in a constructive way and get a good bill to my desk,” Mr. Bush said at a seniors center in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.

He made the brief stop during the visit to Florida to raise $3 million for his re-election campaign. He has raised $30 million in the past six weeks.

Mr. Bush spoke mostly about the Medicare drug benefit, a long-held desire of a powerful voting bloc: the 40 million older Americans enrolled in the government-run health care program. The president wants a Medicare bill on his desk before Congress’ monthlong August recess.

Lawmakers have made no promises; they leave Aug. 1 and have said it could take weeks, perhaps months, to reconcile differences in House and Senate versions of the complicated Medicare legislation that passed last week.

For his Little Havana audience, the president sprinkled in a few phrases in Spanish and denounced Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

“Under the current leadership in Cuba, there will never be freedom,” Mr. Bush said, drawing a standing ovation. “We believe freedom is the future of every country. We believe in a free Cuba.”

He criticized Mr. Castro again at a $2,000-a-plate roast beef luncheon at a Miami airport hotel where the president banked $1.8 million, according to Bush-Cheney campaign spokeswoman Nicolle Devenish. She said Mr. Bush would collect $1.2 million more at an evening fund-raiser in Tampa.

The Florida trip was Mr. Bush’s seventh fund-raising event in less than two weeks. First lady Laura Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have added more money to the re-election fund from seven other money-raising events.

Mr. Cheney appeared yesterday in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he raised $500,000, and was scheduled to headline another event later in the day in Akron, Ohio.

“They’re raising obscene amounts of money because they have policy for sale,” said Scott Maddox, chairman of the Florida Democratic Party. “The people setting up these events are captains of industry who are expecting favorable policy at the expense of the consumer. To me, they should be ashamed.”

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush accompanied his brother at every stop, eliciting the president’s usual jokes about their strong-willed mother, former first lady Barbara Bush

“We both share the same political consultant: our mother,” the president said, drawing a laugh from the 600 people attending the first fund-raiser. “Her fees are low, but her opinion is plentiful.”

The president’s day began at his Texas ranch, where the first couple spent the weekend in seclusion. Mr. Bush’s public schedule for the rest of the week is light as he prepares for the July Fourth weekend and his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa.

He plans education and military re-enlistment events today and a trip to Ohio on Friday for holiday celebrations focusing on the 100th anniversary of powered flight, aides said.

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