- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Many House Republicans know few details about the final Medicare prescription-drug legislation being crafted, which will makeit hard for party leaders to sell it to their colleagues when the bill emerges.

“Members are very concerned that they’re going to have an 800-page bill shoved down their throats at the last minute,” said one House Republican aide. “If anything, that will cause ‘maybes’ to vote ‘no.’”

A conference report can’t be changed once it emerges, and many House conservatives hope their concerns are addressed as a core group of House and Senate Republican negotiators and two Senate Democrats craft the Medicare bill in daily, private meetings. The House bill passed by just one vote, and some predict another close vote on the final bill.

“It’s a high-risk game,” said Derek Karchner, spokesman for Rep. Joe Pitts, a Pennsylvania Republican who voted for the House Medicare bill but since has signed a letter with 12 other Republicans saying they will vote against the final bill if it doesn’t contain certain provisions. “It may be a game they have to play to maintain the integrity of the conference. … But there’s no telling what members will do once the conference report comes out and you can’t amend it at all.”

Rep. John Kline, Minnesota Republican, is circulating a letter among House Republicans, asking leaders for at least three days to review any Medicare conference report before being forced to vote on it.

Many House conservatives have said the final bill must include a mechanism to contain the cost of the new drug benefit and a requirement that Medicare compete directly against private health plans starting in 2010 — both of which Senate Democrats oppose. Republican negotiators have pledged to address conservatives’ concerns and are working to get a bill that all Republicans can support.

“Leadership is doing a great job,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican. “Leadership knows what they’ve got to do to get votes.”

Key negotiator Rep. Billy Tauzin, Louisiana Republican, said he and Rep. Bill Thomas of California are briefing Republicans regularly. He also explained that negotiations are fluid and that members realize they can’t be briefed fully until the bill is finalized.

Still, some members are getting much of their information from news reports. Even some Republicans in leadership say it will be hard to sell a final, nonnegotiable bill to members, with few details beforehand.

“It’s going to be tough to whip a bill you haven’t seen and convince members it’s the best way to address Medicare’s problems,” said a House Republican leadership aide.

The aide said the White House will be a critical partner in selling the final bill to House Republicans.

“House leadership can’t be relied on to just push this though,” the aide said. “The full weight of the White House is going to be needed early and often to educate members about the importance of this bill.”

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