PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: Clinton’s, Dems’ First Order Of Business
President Clinton and Democratic congressional leaders said yesterday that pushing health care reform would be their first order of business when Congress convenes next year. "We believe the best way to start is by taking up the Patients' Bill of Rights," Clinton said (Koffler/Norton, CongressDaily, 11/5). "Buoyed by Democratic gains in Tuesday's elections and resulting disarray among Republicans," the president and Democratic leadership "agreed that the managed care bill offered the best chance to pick up Republican support and score an early success on a popular issue," according to the Washington Post. After the strategy session with Vice President Gore, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO) and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), Clinton said, "We all agree that the message from the American people in the last election is clear: that they want us to pursue progress over partisanship and to find unity over division" (Dewar, 11/6).
Clinton noted that the patients' rights legislation failed in the House this summer by five votes -- the same number of seats the Democrats picked up in the election. Rep. Greg Ganske (R-IA), "the leading Republican sponsor of a tough managed care regulation bill," said, "I think I have several more votes now. I believe the issue is energized" (USA Today, 11/6). Indeed, the Wall Street Journal reports that many "Republican strategists predict that pressure to deal with perceived problems with HMOs will intensify." Bob Castro of the GOP polling group Luntz Research Cos., said HMO reform is "certainly going to be in the top tier of issues as time goes on, especially if it's not resolved quickly" (McGinley, 11/6). Another GOP pollster, Neil Newhouse, said "it would be a good idea" for the GOP leadership to find a compromise they can support. Newhouse "said the move could help counter voter criticism that the GOP-controlled Congress lacked accomplishments." But for now at least, the Dallas Morning News reports that "Republican House leaders are standing pat." House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) spokesperson Michele Davis said, "The president's bill was the full-employment act for trial lawyers. We found a better way to do it. I'm sure we'll be looking at trying to do it again" (Feeney/Ornstein, 11/6).