- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Senate Democrats don’t have the votes to filibuster the Medicare prescription-drug bill, and some of them are inclined to support the measure.

“I would support a filibuster, but I don’t know the numbers are there yet,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said yesterday as he left the Senate Democrats weekly luncheon, where the Medicare bill was discussed. He is lobbying colleagues to filibuster or vote against the bill.

“It takes 40 to tango, and I’m not sure we’re there yet,” said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat, referring to the number needed to block the bill. He said some Democrats are “favorably disposed” toward the bill, which at its heart would create a prescription-drug benefit for seniors in Medicare.

One of those is Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, who said she will vote yes.

“It has its shortcomings, but we’ve been trying to get a drug benefit,” she said. “Overall, the bill is worth supporting.”

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, will oppose the bill and support a filibuster if it comes to that, a spokeswoman said.

Senate Democratic leaders said that no strategy decision has been made and that it’s too soon to tell whether there are enough votes for a filibuster. But Sen. John B. Breaux, a Louisiana Democrat who helped craft the final bill, said Democrats simply can’t afford the high political price of blocking the measure. The proposal has the support of groups such as AARP and 60 Plus.

Still, the votes are not in place for the bill in either chamber, and a flurry of meetings and briefings are being held to gain support.

In the Senate, a filibuster is not the only way the bill could be defeated. It could lack the 51 votes needed to pass, one Senate Democratic aide noted. Or it could require 60 votes to pass, if it exceeds the $400 billion during the 10 years that Congress has set in this year’s budget law. Lawmakers were waiting for the official cost estimate of the bill last night.

Sen. John E. Sununu, New Hampshire Republican, said there is “pretty strong” disappointment among Senate conservatives.

In the House, leaders were losing some key conservatives, who said Republicans are creating a costly new drug benefit without including strong enough Medicare reform.

“I will be unable to support the current conference agreement as it has been described to me,” Rep. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, said in a statement yesterday.

In September, Mr. Toomey led 11 other House conservatives who voted for the initial House Medicare drug bill by signing a letter saying they would vote against the final bill if it didn’t contain strong reforms such as cost containment, tax-preferred health savings accounts and a provision requiring Medicare to compete against private health plans in 2010.

Although the final bill does contain about $6 billion for the health savings accounts, it scales down the competition provision and has a cost-containment mechanism that isn’t the hard cap that Republicans wanted.

“I feel no obligation to vote for the bill at this point,” said Rep. Tom Feeney, a Florida Republican who signed Mr. Toomey’s letter.

“I’m a ‘no’ at this point,” said Rep. Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican who also signed the letter.

But Rep. Joe L. Barton, a Texas Republican who signed Mr. Toomey’s letter, is leaning toward yes and said the bill appears to have “a real demonstration project that can succeed.”

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