Sen. Frist anticipates Bredesen inauguration; new congress

By Julie Fann
Star Staff
jfann@starhq.com

  
Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., is looking forward to the inauguration of governor-to-be Phil Bredesen scheduled to take place today. In a recent teleconference, Frist said he anticipates working with the new governor on a number of issues important to Tennesseans.
   "Issues surrounding jobs and growth, surrounding education, and concerning health care and issues like TennCare I look forward to working on with the governor," Frist said.
   Today, Martin Luther King day, Frist is traveling to Atlanta, where he will spend the day with the King family at Ebeneezer Baptist Church. In the evening, he will fly to New York City where he will speak at the Congress for Racial Equality over the next several days.
   Last week, the U.S. Senate passed an organizing resolution turning the gavels over from the Democrats to the Republicans. After more than a week of negotiations, Frist said he is glad the transition occurred.
   "It has been frustrating in many ways because, up until this congress, this organizing resolution was generally done on the day that we came into session because it simply names who the new senators are and on which committees they sit, but the democrats refused to let us do that in a routine fashion," he said.
   Democrats requested that the new organizing resolution be postponed until congress addressed a range of issues that had been set aside during the last congress.
   "Several of which fell outside the organizing resolution," Frist said. "But we did that in a fair and equitable way."
   In other business, Frist mentioned the need for medical malpractice liability reform since, last week, President Bush discussed the issue with physicians in Pennsylvania.
   "They (doctors) simply can't stay in the profession today if these liability premiums are allowed to continue to skyrocket through no fault of the physician. That's got to be reformed," said Frist, citing the recent closure of a Nevada trauma center and work stoppage in West Virginia due to issues surrounding medical malpractice insurance.
   Frist also touted the recent passing of several bills held over from last congress, among them the unemployment insurance bill and the organizing resolution. Frist is hopeful that 11 appropriations bills will also soon pass.
   "This is important to Tennesseans directly because we have education funding of $50 billion; we increased funding for Headstart, about $6.7 million total, a portion of which will flow to Tennessee," he said.
   Also included in the appropriations bills is funding for employment and training programs in the state for dislocated workers, and $1.5 million in funding for election reform.
   "I told my colleagues that we're not going to leave and break next week until we finish this very important, what's called an omnibus, or grouping together, of these 11 appropriations bills," he said.
   Frist said he largely supports the president's economic stimulus package because, he said, it is a comprehensive jobs package that will grow the economy.
   "I don't know what the final form will be, but I support what the president has put on the table such as accelerated tax cuts, child tax credits, and the dividend exclusion," Frist said.
   Like the president, Frist remains optimistic that diplomacy will prevail in the situation in North Korea.
   "It is not the United States versus North Korea; it is the entire rest of the world against North Korea. Everyone agrees that it is in the interest of the world for North Korea not to develop nuclear weapons," he said.
   Regarding the crisis in Iraq, Frist said the complexity of the problem exists in inspectors attempting to find an 8-by-8 foot room with anthrax spores and botulism toxin in it (two agents the U.S. knows Saddam Hussein loaded on missile warheads during the Gulf War) by searching an area the size of Texas.
   "I remain very hopeful that we can avoid war, but at the end of the day, it is incumbent upon Saddam Hussein to make the decision - either disarm from weapons of mass destruction or suffer the consequences," he said.