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The First 100 Days: Sens. Kennedy, McCain Join Forces on Patients' Bill of Rights; Bush Touts Tax Cut Plan; Washington Businessman Sounds Off

Aired February 6, 2001 - 2:02 p.m. ET


JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Advocates of patients' rights are giving it yet another shot in Congress. A short time ago, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle unveiled a bill they think -- think -- will pass. This is the fifth year the issue has been debated on Capitol Hill.

More on the latest plan and who's behind it -- and that's an interesting factor -- let's bring in our congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl -- Jon?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joie, this has always, every year for the last five years, been one of the most hotly contested issues on Capitol Hill: the questions of a patients' bill of rights; rights protecting those Americans who are in managed care programs.

Well, today, the advocates of this leading the charge, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, and also John Edwards of North Carolina, both Democrats, got a big boost when John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who, of course, has been upsetting some of his fellow Republicans already this year, is coming and joining the Democrats in pushing for this patients' bill of rights.

They had a press conference earlier today. Here's what McCain and Kennedy had to say.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We don't have time to wait any longer for reform. Under today's medical system, too many Americans feel powerless when faced with a health care crisis in their personal life. Each day, month and year that reform is postponed just exacerbates the problems facing patients.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Every day that we fail to pass this legislation, families are being hurt. More than 35,000 families will be hurt today by the fact of HMOs and managed care programs refusing to provide the doctors that are necessary to deal with the health care needs of that family.


KARL: As in previous years, this patients' bill of rights contains some basic protections such as access to emergency room care, better access to specialists and the right to sue. Specifically, this plan respects existing state laws that already protect patients' bill of rights -- already protect patients. So in other words, if a state already has such a law, that law will not be replaced by this federal law. It also protects businesses -- this is an important point -- protects businesses from lawsuits.

In other words, if you have a problem with your HMO, you cannot sue your employer unless your employer had a direct role in making whatever decision you are suing over.

And finally, this holds insurers accountable. This is the right to sue issue. It's a modified right to sue. Patients would be able to sue in both state court, and in some cases federal court.

Now, federal courts do not have what they call punitive damages, but this bill allows for patients who sue in federal courts to sue for $5 million what they're calling civil assessment. Essentially, it's a punitive damage.

Now, this plan has some very stiff resistance that it faces from the managed care industry, from health insurance companies who are already gearing up for a fight on this. And the president -- although President Bush has been in favor of many of the provisions here, the president also has some concerns about the liability issue and the right to sue -- Joie.

CHEN: All right, Jon, let's talk a little bit about the names left on and off. I mean, after all, pretty unusual combination when you see Kennedy and McCain in the same sentence, but a name left off is Norwood.

KARL: Well, that's a really interesting point. All along, you know, up here the kind of jargon, the shorthand for a patients' bill of rights was always called the Dingell-Norwood Bill or the Norwood- Dingell Bill. Charlie Norwood is a Republican from Georgia in the House of Representatives who has been -- he's a doctor. He's one of the few doctors in the Congress, has always been a leading sponsor of the patients' bill of rights, one of the most vocal advocates, and certainly the most vocal Republican advocate.

Well, Charlie Norwood was called to the White House yesterday to talk to the president's top policy advisers, including Karl Rove, and they met about this issue. The president, it was let known to Charlie Norwood and to other Republicans, would like to go forward with his own patients' bill of rights first, asked Charlie Norwood, in so many words, not to be involved in this. And, in fact, Charlie Norwood was not at the press conference and he is not a sponsor of this bill, which is a significant change.

Now, that said, Joie, Norwood is saying that he favors this bill, but he believes the president should have an opportunity, at least, you know, to go forward and do something on this.

And I do want to tell you also that Trent Lott, the Republican majority leader here in the Senate, has said that this issue will be debated in the Senate and will be voted on in the Senate probably within the next six months.

So around here in the Senate, that means patients' bill of rights is certainly on a fast track.

CHEN: Jonathan Karl on the track on Capitol Hill today. Thanks, Jon -- Natalie.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush, on the other hand, is still talking tax cuts: $1.6 trillion over the next 10 years. Right now, he's visiting a small business in the Washington, D.C. area to promote what he sees as one benefit of his plan: economic growth.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By dropping the top rate from nearly 40 percent to 33 percent, we really say to the sole proprietor, the business owner, that there's more capital available for you to expand your business if need be; there's more -- your own money in your own pocket to be able to make sure your small business flourishes. I strongly believe and know that cuts in marginal rates will affect capital growth, which is so important for the growth of small businesses in America.


ALLEN: The president's plan goes to Congress on Thursday. And while no one on Capitol Hill seems to be arguing against a tax cut, the size is up for debate, and who should benefit the most.

CNN's Eileen O'Connor joins us now with another small business owner in D.C. with some definite ideas -- Eileen.

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, I'm at Doolittle's Pet Shop on Capitol Hill, and I'm standing here with the proprietor, Danny Borgot (ph), who is also the president of the Capitol Hill Association of Merchants and Professionals.


O'CONNOR: Do you agree with President Bush when he says that by cutting that rate of tax on you from nearly 40 percent to 33 percent, that that's really going to encourage more investment in your business and more growth?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think for small businesses like ours, it probably won't have that big of an impact. We don't make enough money for it to have that kind of an impact. I think many small businesses aren't affected as much by the corporate tax as we are by other taxes, the employment tax, things like that.

O'CONNOR: And that's the tax you have to match for your employees on their Social Security, things like that.


O'CONNOR: Now, in addition, what about tax cuts on a slowing economy. Are you feeling -- let's start there first. Are you feeling the slowing economy? You just got over Christmas. How was it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right, it's a little soon to say. We had a pretty good holiday season. Things typically do slow down a little bit in January, so I think it's a little too soon for us to tell if there's an actual slowdown right now.

O'CONNOR: Now, of course, retailers like Danny and others, according to President Bush, are going to be the first people hit through a slowdown of the economy. And, of course, he's also talking, Natalie, about cutting taxes, income taxes for the middle class. And also, he says, in that way he could put more money back in people's pockets so they can spend it at shops like Doolittle's -- Natalie.

ALLEN: And we'll continue to follow the story. Eileen O'Connor in Washington.



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