STATE OF THE UNION II: Republicans Blast Clinton’s Plan
While initial Capitol Hill reaction to Clinton's address indicated that some of his initiatives, including a prescription drug benefit for Medicare, would have a "fair-to-good chance of enactment," the GOP wasted no time in commenting on the overall scope of Clinton's proposals. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R- Ill.) said, "If we enacted all the programs that the president talked about, we would spend just about the entire surplus and (produce) bigger and more expensive government. We are going to have to try to work with the president and balance out his needs against the future of our children and our grandchildren." On the other hand, Clinton said that his spending plan "is on target to eliminate the $5.7 trillion federal debt by 2013" (Babington, Washington Post, 1/28).
Frist on the Attack
In the Republican response to Clinton's address, Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) blasted the president's health care proposals specifically, saying, "The last time he proposed a health plan was seven years ago. And then it amounted to a federal government takeover of our entire health system. It would have forced every American into a Washington-run HMO and denied them the right to choose their own doctor. ... Now tonight, 84 months later, the president has unveiled a similar plan just as bad as the first." Frist argued that the plan "makes government even bigger and more bloated because each new proposal we heard about tonight ... comes with its own massive bureaucracy." Frist claimed that the proposals would cost "more than $1,000 for every man, woman and child." Arguing against "socialized medicine," Frist said that if late night talk show host David Letterman, who recently underwent heart surgery, had lived in Canada, "he'd still be waiting for his heart surgery." In the United States, however, "Americans still enjoy the best and most advanced health care in the world," Frist said, but admitted that "we still have to make it even better." In solving the nation's health care woes, he said, Republicans are "determined not to be guided by bigger government, but by [Americans'] freedom to choose [their] kind of health care and to select the doctor of [their] choice."
Laying out some of the GOP's plans, Frist touted a bipartisan drug benefit program for Medicare that would allow participants to choose which "type of medical plan that is best for them." Frist said that Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) "is prepared to bring this needed bipartisan legislation to the Senate floor within two weeks." He added that Republicans would also "lock away" the budget surplus to preserve Medicare. Frist also said Congress would present Clinton with a patients' bill of rights "with strong patient protections," where if "you're denied the treatment you and your doctor decide is right, you'll get a quick appeal to an independent doctor." However, Frist clarified that "[u]nlike the president," Republicans "see lawsuits as a last resort, not the first." Frist concluded by calling for "no more red tape" and for Clinton to put his "trust in the American people -- in their creativity, in their resourcefulness, in their ability to achieve -- free of government interference" (Washington Post transcript, 1/28).