- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Senate Democratic leader says his party lacks the votes to sustain a filibuster against the Medicare prescription-drug bill, which passed the House after an unprecedented three-hour vote early Saturday morning.

Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota still promised a vigorous fight yesterday against the bill, which was one of President Bush’s top priorities.

A filibuster had been threatened by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and his fellow Massachusetts Democrat, presidential contender John Kerry. Republicans could stop a filibuster with 60 out of 100 votes in the Senate.

“A number of our colleagues believe that we ought to focus on the flaws, and there are many, many flaws today,” Mr. Daschle said. “But I must say we will fight this bill as hard as we possibly can. We have a number of procedural options available to us, and we’re going to use them all.”

Neither Mr. Daschle, who spoke on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” nor his spokeswoman, Ranit Schmelzer, would elaborate on what other parliamentary moves the Democrats might use against the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who scheduled a vote today to block the threatened filibuster and wants final passage of the bill early in the week, said the bill’s supporters have more than 60 votes.

“I think we can break the filibuster,” said the Tennessee Republican.

“At the end of the day, there is no way they’re going to be able to uphold any sort of blocking maneuvers. They simply can’t obstruct,” he told CNN’s “Late Edition.”

The legislation was the subject of rare weekend Senate debates after the House passed it on the extended vote.

For his part, Mr. Kennedy was committed to the filibuster, although he repeated his offer to forgo the exercise if the Republican leaders in the House would agree to bring it up again there.

The bill would create a prescription-drug benefit for 40 million older and disabled Americans, as well as a new option for private health care coverage.

Democrats overwhelmingly oppose the plan. They say some elements of the bill were too dear a price to pay for the drug benefit, especially a provision creating a limited experiment in direct competition between private plans and traditional Medicare beginning in 2010.

Like Mr. Kennedy, other Democratic senators said they were upset with what they said were strong-arm tactics by House Republican leaders. The House approved the bill only after the longest roll call in the chamber’s history that ended at dawn — a contrast to the 15 minutes such votes are supposed to last.

Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, and presidential hopeful Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, said they would support Mr. Kennedy’s filibuster. Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, appearing with Mr. Kennedy on ABC, said he would, too, but for a reason different from Mr. Kennedy’s.

“He wants to make it bigger. I want to make it better,” said Mr. McCain, who continued that he worries about spiraling costs to state and federal treasuries and “another $8 trillion in unfunded mandates that we’re laying on our kids.”

Despite the strenuous opposition, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, announced her intention to vote in favor of the bill. She said she would do so “not because it’s perfect, but because I believe it brings substantial help to people who need that help.”

Republicans said they hope to pass the bill and send it to the president before Thanksgiving.


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