PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: Both Parties Face Legislative Dilemma
A patients' bill of rights "is perhaps the clearest example of a conundrum that both parties face as they head into the next two months simultaneously campaigning and governing," the Wall Street Journal reports. For Democrats, four unique political agendas influence the bill's fate: President Clinton wants achievements to build his legacy; Vice President Al Gore wants to replace Clinton; Hillary Rodham Clinton wants New York's Senate seat; and Democrats want to gain control of Congress. Democrats essentially are split between those who want the "GOP- controlled Congress to pass various parts of the Democratic agenda," and those who want to "keep some issues alive for the fall campaigns." House Republicans, whose "majority [is] at risk," are equally as torn, and Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) is "eager to compromise, rack up points and deny Democrats the chance to label his colleagues as do-nothings." However, in the other chamber, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) has a "firmer majority" and is "content" to let the clock run out.
Until July, the bill "was widely considered buried in a House- Senate conference." But action is expected in coming weeks as Congress returns from recess. The Journal predicts that Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) will be "looking for any chance to attach the patients' rights bill to some other legislation." In addition, Zell Miller's (D-Ga.) appointment to replace the late Sen. Paul Coverdell's (R-Ga.) seat might give Democrats vote number 50 in favor of their bill. But even with enough votes for a tie, Democrats still lack votes to surpass a GOP filibuster. Furthermore, Republicans are "likely to maneuver" to deny Gore the "political opening" of casting a tie-breaking vote. For that to occur, "one of two things would happen: one of the few GOP senators who previously supported the bill would switch votes, and [the bill] would fall, or GOP leaders would allow some senators in tough re-election fights to jump to the Democrat's side and the bill would pass." Even if the Senate passes the bill, however, the House still would have to vote. There, Democrats may face their "worst fear of all -- a deal between Republicans that passes Congress with mostly Republican votes." The bipartisan bill sponsored by Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Charles Norwood (R-Ga.) is currently in a stalemate, and Norwood has begun talks with Hastert (Calmes, 8/29).