Washington Prowler

Keeping Medicare Reform Alive

Democrats want it dead on arrival. Plus: Jump-starting Gephardt. Also: Feel that Hillary draft.

By 2.18.03

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DEAD ON ARRIVAL?
The White House is gearing up a huge push-back against Democratic attempts to kill its Medicare reform package before it arrives on Capitol Hill.

"We've had to sit and take a lot of crap about a plan that none of these guys have really seen," says a legislative affairs staffer in the White House. "But we're confident that once we get out package together and present it to the American people, we're going to come out ahead."

Democrats have been scoring points by criticizing a reform plan they say would limit seniors' choices for care if they went on the government's prescription drug plan. Some Democrats have appeared on national TV claiming that Medicare participants would be shuttled into a single HMO-type provider to get the cost assistance for drugs they need.

"It's not true, and the groups who have heard us speak about it know," says the staffer. "Republicans up on the Hill have been briefed on the parameters of what we're doing, and none of them have complained that we're boxing them into a corner. They will be enthusiastic backers."

The hopeful talk is based on recent meetings Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson has had with special interest groups. In those talks, he's outlined the government's plan, and according to HHS staffers, the groups have been receptive, albeit wary. "We can't tell them everything, because the plan isn't complete," says an HHS staffer. "But they get a flavor, and they've been okay with it."

THE QUIET AMERICAN
Rep. Dick Gephardt will make a three-state swing from Missouri to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina leading up to his appearance at the DNC winter meeting in Washington later this week. The trip is intended to help jump-start his presidential campaign, which has been overshadowed consistently by Sen. John Kerry's heavy media blitz of the past month.

This could shape up to be a critical few weeks for Gephardt, who has seen his once-thought-to-be-solid organized labor support undercut by Iowa union leaders, who told reporters in early January that they didn't intend to automatically back their old friend in the caucuses, and a recent endorsement of Kerry by the head of AFSCME.

Gephardt, however, says a staffer, has been doing well with fundraising and expects to have at least as much in the bank for spring and summer campaigning as his key competitors.

TO HILLARY AND BACK
According to a Democratic National Committee staffer, rumors are circulating that several liberal DNC board members from California and New York, who will attend the winter meeting, intend to pass around a "Draft Hillary for President" petition at the two-day Washington event. "We're expecting something, but we don't know how serious these folks are," says the source. "There's been some e-mail traffic that we've heard of, but nothing more than that."

With clearly unelectable candidates now announcing their candidacies, Democratic big-wigs are wondering why Clinton shouldn't at least form an exploratory committee.

A staffer in Clinton's Washington office says they've heard nothing of the petition drive. "It's nothing we're involved in. The Senator has been pretty clear about her plans to serve a full six-year term representing New York."

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