Democrats threaten, Republicans delay on patients rights bill.

Published June 20, 2001 9:33AM (EDT)

Daily line

"As it stands now, the bill the Senate will be debating does more harm than good. I can't support something that drives healthcare costs up sharply, overturns the good work states have already done on this issue or bankrupts employers who provide health insurance to their employees."
-- Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., blasting the Kennedy-McCain patients rights bill

Poll watch: More trust Dems on patients rights

While the parties put aside bipartisanship to wrangle over competing versions of the patients bill of rights in the Senate, the American people have already chosen sides.

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll taken from June 8 to 10 shows that 49 percent of the American public favors the Democratic approach, with 49 percent saying they have more confidence in Democratic leaders "when it comes to the issue of a patient's bill of rights" than in the president, compared with 34 percent who say that they have more confidence in Bush. The poll also shows that the legislation is a high priority among the public, with 77 percent ranking it as either "extremely important" or "very important" that Congress and the president deal with it this year.

In a separate Gallup survey conducted from June 11 to 17, Bush's approval rating held steady at 55 percent, unchanged from the previous week's poll. This mark has been relatively static since the beginning of May, when 53 percent of those surveyed by Gallup approved of Bush's job performance. That number climbed to 56 percent for the remainder of the month before settling in at 55 percent in June.

Both polls have a 3-point margin of error.

Bush job approval

  • 50 percent, Pew Center, June 13 to 17
    Down from 53 percent, May 15 to 20

  • 55 percent, Gallup, June 11 to 17
    Steady at 55 percent, June 8 to 10

  • 59 percent, Fox News, June 6 to 7
    Steady at 59 percent, May 9 to 10

  • 55 percent, ABC News/Washington Post, May 31 to June 3
    Down from 63 percent, April 19 to 22

  • 52 percent, CNN/Time, May 23 to 24
    Down from 55 percent, March 21 to 22

  • 57 percent, CBS News/New York Times, May 10 to 12
    Up from 56 percent, April 23 to 25

  • 50 percent, Newsweek, May 10 to 11
    Down from 57 percent, May 3 to 4

    -- Alicia Montgomery

    Bush buzz

    Promises of bipartisan cooperation went out the window Tuesday when the Senate began debate on the patients rights legislation coauthored by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Battle lines were drawn early, with both sides holding dueling press conferences to kick off the day's activities. Those in favor of Kennedy-McCain talked about patients injured by capricious HMOs, while those who support competing legislation warned that the Kennedy-McCain bill would turn loose a plague of trial lawyers on the healthcare industry and employers who provide health benefits.

    Republicans are doing what they can to delay action on the bill, but Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., has threatened to cancel the body's Fourth of July recess if that's what it takes to get to a final vote. Democrats seem undeterred, and even eager to run the bill into the teeth of Bush's threatened veto.

    A spirit of compromise did win out for the moment in the debate over rising energy prices in the West. While Democrats had previously blasted as insufficient the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's decision to expand limited controls on Western power suppliers, they have since dropped their demands for more stringent price controls, deciding to wait and see if the FERC action has its desired effect.

    California Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, who has advocated stronger action to curb soaring power costs, will testify about his state's energy crisis in the Senate on Wednesday. Davis has struggled with Republicans in his state over who is to blame for the current crisis, and California Democrats hope that the majority in the U.S. Senate can help Davis escape voter wrath over the issue.

    Some Republican wrath has been aimed at the White House over Bush's decision to stop Navy munitions testing on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques in 2003. GOP lawmakers who oppose the decision assert that the involvement of key White House advisor Karl Rove in the policy change proves that politics and not national security was the overriding motivation for the change.

    In other military news, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld reportedly will recommend that the nation scrap its long-standing policy of maintaining military readiness sufficient to fight two major wars simultaneously. He argues that the policy is a Cold War leftover, and is not the best way for America to guard against threats in the new century.

    Anti-tobacco crusaders claim that the Bush administration is surrendering to cigarette makers by pushing for a quick settlement in the giant lawsuit over health costs associated with treating sick smokers. Attorney General John Ashcroft said that the administration is ready to bargain because the government has a weak case. Tobacco opponents say that Ashcroft's statement proves that the Bush administration isn't serious about holding the industry accountable.

    Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill finally ditched the 2.37 million shares of Alcoa stock he held. After months of dithering, O'Neill has kept his grudging promise, Treasury officials report, to turn loose the approximately $100 million worth of stock in Alcoa, the aluminum giant he headed before joining the Bush team. (Salon broke the story that O'Neill was stalling the stock sale after promising to divest in March.) Treasury officials released no documents pertaining to the sale.

    The Republican Party wants to keep the soft money rolling in until the last possible moment. With passage of campaign finance legislation looking more viable than in previous years, the GOP is anxious to collect as much as possible from its "black tie and boots" fundraiser next week. The $2,500-per-person party is expected to raise more than $15 million.

    And don't miss Democrats slamming Bush over an IRS letter hyping the tax rebate. The agency reportedly will spend more than $20 million to send letters to taxpayers alerting them that their tax rebate checks are in the mail. The White House says the agency is just giving taxpayers a heads up. However, some Democrats see it as a publicly supported campaign, and say the letter reads more like a sweepstakes announcement than a government document.

    Wednesday schedule: The president speaks at the Labor Department's National Summit on the 21st Century Workforce.

    -- A.M.

    This day in Bush history

    June 20, 1999: The Associated Press reported that some conservatives in the Missouri Republican Party were angered by what they considered an attempt to annoint Texas Gov. George W. Bush the party's 2000 presidential candidate. The state party announced that its March 7, 2000, primary would be winner-take-all, a change from the proportional split of the state's 37 Republican delegates that had been the previous party policy. Supporters of Pat Buchanan said the change was aimed at giving Bush a boost in what promised to be a hotly contested race.

    Burning Bush

    Links to the Web's best sites for hardcore Bush watchers.

    Send questions, comments and tips to bushed@salon.com.

    Bushed! contributors: Eric Boehlert, Karen Croft, Gary Kamiya, Kerry Lauerman, Daryl Lindsey, Alicia Montgomery, Fiona Morgan, Scott Rosenberg, Jake Tapper, Joan Walsh, Anthony York

    Take a look at the previous edition of Bushed!

  • By Salon Staff

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