Frist condemns Daschle over politics

By Julie Fann
S
tar Staff
jfann@starhq.com

  
Bill Frist, R-TN, on Wednesday condemned Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., for playing partisan politics in a debate to pass a Medicare bill that would lower the cost of prescription drugs for senior citizens. Senators agreed in a 99-0 vote yesterday to begin debate on the main bill, a measure that would ease access to generic drugs.
   "He has bypassed the Finance Committee, ignored the Committee of Jurisdiction, ignored the tripartisan bill, and ignored the consensus building which has taken years to develop. Senator Daschle's partisanship on this issue sends a signal that he is not serious about working on it," Frist said.
   Several Medicare bills have been introduced. Among the more popular are a proposal backed by Senate Democrats estimated to cost up to $500 billion over 10 years and a tripartisan $370 billion plan offered by several Republicans, a Democrat and the Senate's lone independent. A proposal will need to get 60 votes for passage.
   "My role in the process will be pretty consistent with what I've been doing the past four years. Bipartisanship will be fundamental and important. Prescription drugs for seniors must be a consistent part of the Medicare bill, not just an appendage to that bill," Frist said.
   Also, the war on terrorism, according to Frist, shouldn't keep lawmakers from working for the country's senior citizens in a fiscally responsible way that provides cost relief.
   The main Medicare bill is a measure aimed at speeding generic drugs to the market by limiting brand-name pharmaceutical companies' use of patent laws to thwart generic competition. Senate Republican leader Trent Lott has also accused Democrats of not really wanting to pass a bill.
   "I'm hopeful that after a two-week debate we should have a bill that is bipartisan and extends over time, but we can't pass a bill unless we have Democrats and Republicans coming together," Frist said.
   Frist also touted the HIV/AIDS bill passed by the Senate last Friday, a bill which combined legislation set forth by Frist and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. "By merging these two pieces of legislation we can continue to maintain America's leadership to fight this disease," Frist said.
   Frist said he has been following the issue of education in Tennessee, an issue he remains concerned about due to the state's budget woes. He mentioned a report recently released by the Department of Education revealing state-by-state funding levels for the new school year.
   "In the president's 'No Child Left Behind' bill, Tennessee will get $87 million above and beyond last year's level for Tennessee schools for 2002-2003. It is an unprecedented increase," Frist said.
   Frist also mentioned that the continued delay in federal judicial appointments was incredibly frustrating and said that both he and Sen. Fred Thompson were lobbying to get Julia Gibbons considered as soon as possible.
   "We need to get this to move forward," he said.
   The contentious battle for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Fred Thompson this election cycle Frist said continues to prove that Republicans are enthusiastic. He said he isn't concerned that Lamar Alexander and Ed Bryant have fallen into a gruesome duel as of yet.
   "I've not talked to them. I've talked to their campaign indirectly. I will keep watching and if things step over the bound then we'll make phone calls and tell them to tone it down," he said. "I think that either candidate has the leadership experience to make an excellent senator. Ultimately, Tennesseans will choose who to fight for."
   Concerning recent remarks made by President Bush blaming current economic conditions on former President Clinton and corporate America, Frist said Bush was mainly referring to a decade before he entered office.
   "The point is, what we're seeing today is in large part from the greed of the 1990s. These problems didn't take place over the last year and can't be pinned on one individual. It is a product of a generation of 10 or 15 years. If you're going to point fingers, you can't point them at Bush because he wasn't president during those years," Frist said.