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Is Bush's New Drug Bill the Right Prescription for Seniors?

Aired June 12, 2003 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: The youngest Americans and the oldest in the spotlight on Capitol Hill. Who stands to gain? The people or the politicians?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I think it's pretty clear what the intentions of of the House -- or the House leadership is to drive a stake into the heart of the tax credit expansion.

ANNOUNCER: Democrats try to conjure up a scary picture of Republicans. But the GOP keeps sucking the life out of their issues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there a problem, sir?

ANNOUNCER: Actor Adam Sandler is reduced to the role of stand-in for a presidential candidate.



JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us.

Well, the patient had been ailing for some time, and then suddenly came a remarkable revival. A scene from the TV show "ER" perhaps? No, it is the saga of Medicare prescription drug legislation. The Senate Finance Committee began pushing the bill toward passage today.

Our Jonathan Karl looks at the politics and the players behind the turnaround.


JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the kind of zeal he put into the tax cut fight, the president is stomping for his Medicare prescription drug plan.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Congress must understand we've got a problem with Medicare. They should not politicize the issue. They ought to focus on what's best for our fellow Americans and get a package done, and the House needs to get it done, and the Senate needs to get it done prior to the 4th of July break.

KARL: It looks like that may happen. Unlike the bitter and drawn-out fight over taxes, a modified version of the president's Medicare plan is flying through Congress with relative ease.

Even Democrats are saying nice things about it.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: This is an historic moment, and I, too, commend our distinguished leaders.

SEN. KENT CONRAD (D), NORTH DAKOTA: This proposal is a major step in the right direction.

KARL: Just a week ago, Democratic leader Tom Daschle slammed the emerging compromise.

DASCHLE: We think that it is flawed, seriously. We think that there are many improvements that must be made in order for it to be acceptable to seniors.

KARL: Now Daschle has done a virtual about-face, and the bill's supporters think it will ultimately pass with as many as 75 votes, including a majority of Democrats.

What happened? The Kennedy factor, in part, explains the dramatic turnaround. Ted Kennedy praised the plan as a major breakthrough even as Democratic leaders attacked it. As a closed-door meeting of Democratic senators on Tuesday, Kennedy made an appeal based on pragmatism, saying this was the best chance of getting seniors drug coverage.

There will be continued resistance from other liberal Democrats who don't want to hand the president a political victory on such a hot-button issue. And some conservatives, including former leader Trent Lott, argue the plan costs too much and reforms too little.

But most conservatives are jumping on the prescription drug bandwagon.

SEN. JIM BUNNING (R), KENTUCKY: Seniors across the country are tire -- believe me, I've heard from them -- are tired of politicians promising a prescription drug benefit year after year, only to be let down year after year.


KARL: One thing to watch in the coming weeks as the Senate prepares to vote for this is what will those Democrats in the Senate -- there are four of them -- who are running for president, do on this? Officially the four Democrats running for president are undecided on the bill. But all four of them have expressed concerns about certain aspects of it -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Now, Jon, while this is going on, meanwhile, the House could be voting any minute now on a child tax credit. What's the latest on that?

KARL: Well, there are a couple of developments on that.

One, on the Republican side. As you know, Judy, Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, earlier this week, called on the House to pass the version of this child tax credit that had already been passed by the Senate, a $3.5 billion plan. It would be targeted only to those low-income families that were left out. But House Republicans charged ahead with their own plan, $82 billion, much more expensive, that would also give help for upper and middle-income families. Now the White House has put out a statement saying that they support that plan as well. The White House wants it to be passed so the two sides could then come to some kind of an agreement and get something presumably, in between those two, actually passed.

But, Judy, there is a last-minute wrinkle here. Democrats are charging that this plan would leave out military families who saw combat in Afghanistan and Iraq during the past year. Those families, according to Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee, could see their tax credit reduced as a result of the way this bill was crafted by the Republicans. So expect a bit of a skirmishing on that in the coming days on this.

WOODRUFF: It's better than a good mystery. All right. Jon Karl at the Capitol, thanks very much.

Well, lately, it seems most pieces of legislation that move forward on the Hill give Republicans something to crow about and put Democrats in a conundrum.

Let's bring in senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

All right, Candy,. The Bush administration, they pretty much got what they wanted on tax cuts. They got something on education. They're about, apparently, to get something on a prescription drug plan for seniors. None of these were exactly what they wanted originally. So how did does all this play out politically?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's pretty much a trifecta for the president in a lot of ways.

You know that saying happiness is not getting what you want, it's wanting what you've got? Same way in politics, where a president can pretty much embrace what Congress gives him and call it his own. The president has a bully pulpit. He's the star of the signing ceremony. Democrats can say, Look, it's two-thirds our plan, he fought us every step of the way, whatever their argument. But most people don't watch legislation as it develops. They see the larger picture, the one that gets taken in the Rose Garden where the president is signing and members of Congress are watching. There is not much the out party, in this case the Democrats, can do except say, This wasn't about politics.


PELOSI: I think we have to be concerned more about what it means to the American people and find our common ground with the Republicans to achieve that, rather than worry about who makes the political point.


CROWLEY: Which is easy to say if you're a House Democratic leader from a safe district in San Francisco. It's not quite so easy for the '04 candidates who are still trying to find traction against a still popular president.

WOODRUFF: So this has to be really frustrating for the Democrats, Candy.

CROWLEY: It's frustrating, but it's not unexpected. The president has a microphone, and the Democrats have a microphone divided by nine. And for the most part, they're talking different issues. There are so many voices that no single message gets through.

But it was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at this stage of the presidential election cycle. A top aide in one campaign said to me, At the end of the day, he'll get the credit for it. It drives me crazy, but he's going to. At least two campaigns, interestingly, are floating the notion that on certain occasions the '04 Democrats gather for joint news conferences to blast Bush with a single message. Depending on how many of the '04s are in Washington, that's not hard logistically. And the thinking is it could give visibility to the Democratic race and maybe even make a dent in the president's poll numbers -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, we'll see how many the Democrats pull off between now and the primaries. OK. Candy, thank you very much.

Well, the president faces a very different political dynamic when it comes to his push for peace in the Middle East. Amid a new round of violence in the region, our Bill Schneider suggests that Mr. Bush must stick to his guns.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): The defining quality of President Bush's leadership is relentless determination. When he commits himself to an objective, whether it's regime change in Iraq or a tax cut at home, he sticks with it, shrugging off criticism from political opponents.

The Middle East road map appears to be that kind of commitment.

BUSH: All here today now share our goal. The holy land must be shared between the state of the Palestine and the state of Israel.

SCHNEIDER: Now just one week later, the road map is in danger and President Bush's commitment is being tested. The tragic violence in the Middle East this week followed a predictable script: Palestinian terrorism, Israeli retaliation, more terrorism. Is there anything new?

Yes. Two things. A new Palestinian voice of moderation:


SCHNEIDER: And criticism of Israel by President Bush.

BUSH: I'm concerned that the attacks will make it more difficult for the Palestinian leadership to fight off terrorist attacks. I'm also don't believe the attacks help Israeli security.

SCHNEIDER: To save the roadmap, President Bush is going to have to show the same relentless determination in the Middle East that he showed in Iraq and on the tax cut.

AARON MILLER, PRES., SEEDS OF PEACE: He's got to have very frank conversations with the Israelis and the Palestinians at a personal level.

SCHNEIDER: He has to tell the Israelis to give the new Palestinian leadership a chance.

MILLER: If, in fact, Abu Mazen really is prepared to act, will you give him the political and security time and space?

SCHNEIDER: He has to tell the Palestinians to take that chance and act forcefully against the terrorists.

MILLER: If I can get you the political time and space from the prime minister, will you create a moment of truth for yourself to reassert your monopoly over the forces and sources of violence in your society, Hamas and Islamic Jihad?

SCHNEIDER: It cannot happen without President Bush.

MILLLER: What they need, essentially, is a full-time, 24/7 partner to help them get out of this. Now, the primary responsibility rests with him.


SCHNEIDER: Conservatives were fully behind President Bush on Iraq and the tax cuts. But they have deep misgivings about the road map, a policy that requires the U.S. to pressure Israel. President Bush has stood up to opposition from Democrats on the tax cut, and from the whole world on Iraq. The big test is whether he's willing to stand up to conservatives on the Middle East -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Bill Schneider. Thank you very much.

Still ahead, more on kids, tax breaks and getting the political credit. Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan won't mince any words on this one.

Plus, who is Tom DeLay butting heads with now? Our Bob Novak has the "Inside Buzz" on DeLay's feud with a fellow Republican.

And is she California dreamin'? Condoleezza Rice answers speculation that she'll run for political office.

This is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.



SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: This is probably a sight you never thought you'd see in your life, Chuck Schumer and the Christian Coalition teaming up to get legislation passed.


WOODRUFF: Strange political bed fellows. Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition, endorsed a bill proposed by the Democratic senator from New York. The legislation would crack down on pornographic e-mail spam that's sent to children. We're back in a moment.


WOODRUFF: With us now, former Gore campaign manager, Donna Brazile, and American Cause President Bay Buchanan.

Let's talk first about child tax credits. Conservative Republicans in charge of the House saying, we're not going to go along with what the Senate doing. You have Tom DeLay, when he was told, we'd like you to do, the White House want you to do what the Senate did. Bay, he said, that ain't going to happen, they said. What's going on?

BAY BUCHANAN, PRES. AMERICAN CAUSE: I think the conservatives on the Hill, in fact, the Republicans and the House have been -- they just overlooked them continually. The president, I think, calls in the Senate, gets them to do what they want, and the assume the House is going to run right behind them. And it tends to be more conservative, independent and they want a little more respect. I think there's no question what DeLay is doing is smart. He's sending a message, once again, to say, listen. This is not good policy, not something we'd be for, and we have a voice in this. Now, they're going with it. They're agreeing to the $10 billion but adding to it to see if they can't get something along with it rather than just be taken down the road.

DONNA BRAZILE, FMR. GORE CAMPAIGN MGR.: First of all, I think the Senate is right, the president is right, and the House Democrats are right. It's time for the Republicans to put aside their partisanship on the taxes and allow this bill to pass. Why, because 12 million children, 12 million low-income families will receive this benefit, many of whom are from military families. I don't see why this country cannot give that tax relief. And Tom DeLay should understand, the working families in his district will also benefit from this.

BUCHANAN: Donna, this has nothing to a tax relief. Tax relief, tax cuts are about people who pay taxes, than getting a reduction in that taxes. These people do not pay taxes. This is a welfare bill, lets call it what it is just that the IRS is sending the check.

BRAZILE: And what about the military families?

BUCHANAN: Listen, I am all for benefits for the military families. No question. I'm not saying these people don't deserve money, if, indeed, they do, the state government is where the welfare belongs. They should look at that. In military families look at it as a bill for the aid of military families, but not call it a tax cut.

BRAZILE: They pay taxes. When corporations move offshore, they do not pay taxes. We give them loans, federal dollars, and we call it a bailout. Let's bail out working families, let's give them a tax break so they can go to Walmart, Target and shop all night long this summer.

BUCHANAN: It will definitely going to go through. It's good politics, but I do not believe it's good policy.

WOODRUFF: We are talking about children, now let's switch to the other end of the age spectrum and talk about the elderly, Medicare prescription drugs. It looks as if they're moving toward some sort of deal. The White House is saying, we're going to go along, apparently, with what it appeared they weren't going to go along with, trying to take an issue off the table, that the Democrats would have had.

Donna, is this going to create a big problem for the Democrats next year?

BRAZILE: No, I don't believe so. I mean, the Republicans are finally moving in a direction, Democrats have urged them to move for many years on prescription drug benefits for seniors. The problem with this bill is that it offers a lot of home and not a lot of relief. The bill will not take effect until 2006. And many low inform income seniors will be given the shaft. Look, we pay more money for prescription drugs -- prescription medicines as my father always tells me, than any other country. And it's time we lower the cost of drugs. At the same time, provide seniors with the relief that they're seeking.

BUCHANAN: You know, this is one of my concerns. It is a -- the president has tried many times in the last couple years to try to get something, and he couldn't get what he wanted. And it's clear we've got election year a year away, made a promise when he was a candidate, that we're going to get drugs covered for seniors. And so now he's going ahead and move ahead with it. But the problem is, this is the largest benefit for seniors, for health, that we've done since the great society. It's incredible entitlement which we're never going to be able to back out of. And so what are we looking at, 40 million seniors. A lot of them get benefits, they are taken care of now. There is no problem what so ever. It should be more targeted. To me this is something we're never going to get back out of. We are $400 billion, going to go up from there.

BRAZILE: This is one of the best programs in the federal government. And I think we should continue to look at the fact it provides a benefit to all seniors, and that's the way it should stand. WOODRUFF: Donna, what about the politics of this?

Isn't it a problem for the Democrats when the president keeps moving their way on some of the issues that they were planning to hit him over the head with next year?

BRAZILE: I'm sure the president doesn't want to be accused of being a Democrat light, in terms of the fact that he has taking so many of our issues off the plate. But it's good politics, but also good politics for the seniors to try to provide these benefits.

BUCHANAN: You're absolutely right. Again, this is a policy I'm concerned about. But the politics is outstanding for the president, even better for the Republicans on a whole. Seniors are going to now see this. They are going to see that the president and Republican party are giving to them something that they could not get from Democrats for eight years under Clinton. And as a result, there's very few issues for the Democrats to run against.

BRAZILE: Well they won't see it til 2006 and...

BUCHANAN: But they'll know it's coming.


WOODRUFF: We'll leave it there. Donna Brazile, Bay Buchanan, good to see you both. See you next week.

Just ahead, is there trouble brewing inside the House leadership?

Bob Novak reports on talk of friction between the majority leader and his political rift when we return.


WOODRUFF: Well, on Capitol Hill at this hour, the Congressional Black Caucus is holding a tribute honoring Army specialist and former prisoner of war, Shoshana Johnson. She is being recognized for her bravery and heroism during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Meanwhile, Republican Senator Larry Craig is backing down somewhat in a showdown with the Air Force. He has released his hold on 127 military promotions clearing the way for a Senate vote today. But Craig still is blocking 85 higher ranking promotions in hopes of pressuring the Air Force to base four more C-130s in his home state of Idaho. We'll be back in a moment.


WOODRUFF: Bob Novak's here with some "Inside Buzz." I understand there may be a rift among the Republican leadership in the House?

ROBERT NOVAK, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Yes, there's a little tension between the House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and his successor as House majority whip and his former deputy, Roy Blunt, kind of came to light when "The Washington Post" had a front-page story showing a disagreement on the provision that Blunt had put in a bill; DeLay had it taken out. And they've been disagreeing on union-opposed bill on flex time. There's just a lot of feeling that DeLay doesn't feel that Blunt is doing his job as well as he did it. Maybe they're jostling for who's going to be the next speaker, but I don't think Dennis Hastert plans to step down soon anyway.

WOODRUFF: All right. Moving onto the Democrats. What's the speculation about John Edwards?

NOVAK: Some of the national Democratic operatives I've talked to think John Edwards is going nowhere in his race for president and that he ought to get out and concentrate on getting reelected to the Senate from North Carolina, which won't be easy.

Now, there's some people who think Erskine Bowles, the former White House chief of staff would be a stronger candidate anyway. I'm not sure if that's true. But there's a lot of feeling that his presidential race is foundering.

WOODRUFF: All right. Another Democratic contender, Dick Gephardt. You found he's looking for an early endorsement.

NOVAK: Some of his people want an early AFL-CIO endorsement. He got some railway maintenance workers to endorse him last week, and he is close to Jim Hoffa, they were law school classmates. And Hoffa, of course, has been kind of playing footsy with the Republicans. But he does like Gephardt, and it's entirely possible that Hoffa, who didn't like Gore much, will be an early Gephardt backer. Wait and see, though.

WOODRUFF: All right, moving quickly out to California, where Democratic Governor may be in trouble, Gray Davis. The Republican Congressman Darrell Issa who is behind the recall effort is now up to something.

NOVAK: He is considering, some of his advisers think it's a bad idea, but he is considering calling for a convention to pick one candidate. The convention would be held probably in July or August for an election to be held in October. So you wouldn't get a mob of Republicans dividing up the vote. Now, wouldn't that be fun, a wild convention with about seven Republicans trying to replace Gray Davis? When it comes to having fun in politics, the Californians beat us all.

WOODRUFF: And they would all agree in one convention on who's going to...?

NOVAK: That's what Mr. Issa is trying to get. Of course, there's the possibility he wouldn't be the guy, isn't there?

WOODRUFF: Yes, he is interested in the job himself. We talked to him here yesterday on INSIDE POLITICS. All right, Bob Novak, great to see you.

NOVAK: Thanks, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thank you very much.

Checking the headlines now in our "Campaign News Daily," senator and presidential hopeful John Kerry was supposed to be the graduation speaker at Manchester, New Hampshire Central High School yesterday, but a scheduling conflict apparently forced him to cancel. Instead, the school called on its most famous graduate.

Actor and comedian Adam Sandler, a 1984 graduate of the school, filled in for Kerry. He said the senator had to cancel because he had, quote, "a wicked bad case of a fake tummy ache." End quote.

After a speech today in Los Angeles, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was asked if she might be interested in the Golden State's top job. She said her hands are full in her current post, but then she added this comment.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I really do look forward to returning to California sometime in the near future.


WOODRUFF: In the near future. We heard that.

One more note on future campaigns, Michigan Congressman John Dingell, longest serving member of the House, says that he will run for reelection in 2004. The 76-year-old Democrat shared the news in a letter to "Roll Call." He has served in the House since winning a special election back in 1955.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. A lot of news today. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thanks for joining us.



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