President Bush Outlines Priorities, Including Homeland Security, Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit
Buoyed by gains made by Republicans in Tuesday's midterm elections, President Bush yesterday called for congressional action on some "administration priorities" that have been delayed, including the creation of a Department of Homeland Security, the Washington Post reports. Saying legislation to establish the department is "the most important thing to get done," Bush called on Congress, which will reconvene on Tuesday to begin a lame-duck session, to take immediate action on the issue (Milbank, Washington Post, 11/8). "The election may be over, but a terrorist threat is still real. The Senate must pass a bill that will strengthen our ability to protect the American people," Bush said (Bumiller, New York Times, 11/8). Bush released his plan for a Homeland Security department earlier this year, but a debate over labor issues stalled the measure in the Senate (Chen/Gerstenzang, Los Angeles Times, 11/8).
In June, the House passed a bill (HR 5005) that contained nearly everything Bush had outlined in his plan. Under the legislation, 22 federal entities would be merged into the new department. The CDC would play a vital role in the department; its Epidemic Intelligence Service would be expanded and modernized, allowing it to train local and state officials to better recognize a bioterrorist attack (California Healthline, 7/29). Legislation has been stalled in the Senate because some Democrats say the House-passed measure would "ease civil service protections" and other rights for employees of the department, the Los Angeles Times reports. Despite pressure from Bush, aides to Democratic and Republican senators said action on the bill may be delayed until the next session because of the "unpredictability" of the lame-duck session (Los Angeles Times, 11/8). Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said he will make a "huge effort" to pass the bill if he becomes majority leader during the lame-duck session, as is expected (Washington Post, 11/8). However, a Republican Senate aide said Lott would be in a better position to pass the bill in January, when the new congressional session starts (Los Angeles Times, 11/8).
The Post reports that while Bush was more "vague" about his plans for the next Congress, he did mention the need for a Medicare prescription drug benefit (Washington Post, 11/8). Republican lawmakers will likely use their increased power to enact market-based reforms, including a Medicare drug benefit that uses private insurers, rather than the federal government, to provide coverage (California Healthline, 11/7). In June, the House passed such a plan as part of a Medicare reform package, but the Senate failed several times to pass a prescription drug benefit bill (California Healthline, 8/13). MPR's "Marketplace" yesterday reported on the Republicans' health care agenda. The segment includes comments from Robert Blendon, professor of health policy at Harvard University, and Stuart Altman, a health economist and professor of national health policy at Brandeis University's Heller School for Social Policy and Management (Palmer, "Marketplace," MPR, 11/7). A transcript and audio of the segment in RealPlayer are available online.
In other news, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), who was "tarnished" by the Democratic losses in Tuesday's election and is considering a run for president in 2004, yesterday announced as expected that he will step down from his leadership position when the new Congress convenes in January, the Baltimore Sun reports. As a result, the Sun reports there is a "vigorous leadership battle" underway between Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the minority whip, and Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas), who chairs the House Democratic Caucus (Hirschfeld, Baltimore Sun, 11/8). Pelosi, who is considered more liberal, said she would look past ideology and focus on an agenda that "inspires voters and wins elections," the Post repots. Frost, however, who is considered a moderate, said that electing Pelosi might relegate the Democrats to "permanent minority" status because she would pull the party to the left and voters would "flock to Republicans" (VandeHei, Washington Post, 11/8). In addition, Rep. Harold Ford (D-Tenn.) this morning announced his intention to compete for the position, saying both Frost and Pelosi represent "a leadership style that the party needs to change," the AP/Washington Post reports (AP/Washington Post, 11/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.