LAZIO/CLINTON: Controversy Brews over Cancer Bill Signing
"Behind closed doors" and without any "public fanfare," President Clinton yesterday signed a breast cancer bill that was sponsored in the House by Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.), denying Hillary Clinton's (D) New York U.S. Senate race rival a "chance to shine on the White House stage," the New York Post reports. Lazio had urged Clinton to hold a high-profile bill signing to promote awareness for the disease and offered to "skip" the ceremony if the president did not want him to "bask in the limelight." He said, "I hope they do have a ceremony, and if it's a condition of having a ceremony that I'm not there for some reason, I can live with that" (Birnbaum et al., New York Post, 10/25). Lazio also said that "politics" may have influenced the White House decision to avoid a public signing. "I think it's a missed opportunity for the president. I don't have to be there at the bill signing if he feels it's not a politically wise thing to do," he added (Archibold, New York Times, 10/25). However, a Clinton spokesperson denied any "political motivation" behind the decision, adding that the president may hold a public ceremony after the election (New York Post, 10/25). White House Press Secretary Jake Siewert offered "no explanation" for the private bill signing, only stating, "[W]hat matters to us more is the substance of these bills, and this is an important bill. There is more than enough credit to go around." In New York, Hillary Clinton said that she had no discussions with the president about the issue. "I didn't know about the decision until I read about it. The president signs hundreds of bills and they make those decisions," she said. (New York Times, 10/25). Chris Jennings, the White House's health policy coordinator, said, "Different people see different levels of value in a signing ceremony" (Pear, New York Times, 10/24). While Siewert "insisted" that Hillary Clinton had played an "instrumental" role in the passage of the breast cancer bill, Lazio called the claim "nonsense." According to a Lazio aide, "We're not aware of any lobbying she did on this issue" (New York Post, 10/25). Lisa Muscatine, a spokesperson in Hillary Clinton's White House office, said that the first lady "argued adamantly to get money for the new program included in the president's budget," adding, "This wasn't on anybody's radar screen until the first lady championed it within the administration" (New York Times, 10/24). The Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Act will allow states to extend Medicaid coverage to low-income, uninsured women diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer through a federal screening program. Democrats "complain" that Lazio, chief sponsor of the House bill, "lost interest" in the legislation until he began his Senate run in May (New York Times, 10/25).
Around Washington, some legislators and advocates expressed disappointment in the president's decision to forgo a public ceremony. Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) had gathered 61 signatures in a letter to Clinton urging a public event to mark the new breast cancer law (New York Post, 10/25). Fran Visco, president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, said, "We'd love to have a public signing ceremony. We are trying to get one, to recognize the incredible men and women across the country who have worked so hard over the past four years to pass this legislation." The New York Times recounts that in a Feb. 5 radio address in which Clinton urged Congress to pass the bill he said, "This is an issue that transcends political boundaries" (New York Times, 10/24).