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Congress Returns to Work with Budget, Health-Care Issues Hanging Over Their Heads

Aired September 5, 2000 - 1:05 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: It's back-to-work day for members of Congress and they too have health-care issues hanging over their heads.

CNN's Chris Black joins us now from Capitol Hill with more about that.

Hello, Chris.

CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Lou.

Congress is returning to work after the long summer recess and the Democrats are presenting a united front. Earlier today, President Clinton met with the Democratic House leaders and when they came into the Rose Garden after an hour-long meeting to plot strategy, they were singing from the same song book.

Democrats feel very strongly, at the top of their priority list are two health care issues: a patient bill of rights and prescription drug coverage for Medicare recipients.

Senate Democrats were within one vote of a 50/50 tie, a tie that could be broken by Vice President Al Gore on the patient bill of rights and they picked up that vote, when Zell Miller, the new Democratic senator from Georgia replaced Paul Coverdell who died recently.

And the Democrats also say they're going to keep pushing very hard to add prescription drug coverage to a Medicare program for senior citizens, a high priority for a lame duck president who wants it to be part of his legacy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Americans and people with disabilities should not have to wait another year for an affordable voluntary Medicare prescription drug benefit. This is -- the money is there; we ought to do this. And we ought not to be wasting a lot of time seeing how much we could parse down what is something that is clearly a life-or-death matter for so many Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLACK: Democrats don't have a lot of time, neither do Republicans. They're going to be here for maybe five weeks before they have to go home and campaign for reelection.

One thing they have to do is pass the spending bills. President Clinton has only signed two of the 13 spending bills to keep the government in operation beginning October first. Democrats say, the president has a lot of leverage because Republicans don't want the government to shut down.

Today, the Senate will begin debate on passing the legislation that extends normal trade relations to the People's Republic of China. Now, both liberals and conservatives have amendments to that bill, but supporters say they have to beat every one of those amendments to avoid sending the bill back to the House where it passed with some difficulty earlier this year.

And finally, when the House returns to work tomorrow, Republican leaders have scheduled a six-hour leadership meeting from noon 'til 6:00 p.m. to plot their strategy for the next month. The first thing on their agenda is trying to override President Clinton's veto of the marriage penalty -- Lou.

WATERS: Chris Black on Capitol Hill.

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