USA Today, the Washington Post, and the New York Times lead with the House's passage yesterday of a patients' rights bill that would guarantee consumers access to such medical services as emergency rooms, specialists, and clinical trials, and give them the right to appeal and then sue over denials of care, but would largely subject such lawsuits, including the size of possible damage awards, to federal, rather than state, law. The papers explain that it was President Bush's ability to win many House members over to this limiting federal primacy he favored (in the end, no Republicans voted against the bill) that was key to the vote--the second day in a row the sheets see him as an effective retail politician (yesterday they saluted his role in the House passage of an energy bill). The Los Angeles Times fronts the House vote but goes instead with the UN war crimes tribunal's genocide conviction yesterday--which the WP and NYT front--of a former Bosnian Serb general, in connection with the 1995 massacre of some 7,000 unarmed Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica, the first genocide conviction handed down for events in Yugoslavia. The 53-year-old ex-general was sentenced to 46 years in prison.
The patients' rights coverage explains that President Bush struck a deal with congressman Charles Norwood, who had long been the House's driving force for a tougher patients' rights bill, under which Norwood agreed to switch to accepting some limits on lawsuits against insurers and HMOs in return for Bush's promise not to veto the resulting bill. USAT says that as a result, the House's debate focused in "unusually personal terms" on Norwood. An inside WP story depicts the president's own personal emphasis with Norwood, citing unnamed sources in saying that in an Oval Office meeting between the two a few days ago, after several minutes lavishly praising Norwood, Bush suspended his administration's return-to-dignity rules long enough to ask him, "So now that I've kissed your [rear end], what do I have to do to get a deal?" (And who does the WP think it's protecting from what with that transparent substitution?)
The patients' rights stories agree that the House notwithstanding, the issue awaits a murky outcome in the Senate, which has already passed a tougher bill. They report that the House bill was immediately denounced by the Senate majority leader Tom Daschle. The NYT and WP leads note that the American Medical Association is also opposed. The NYT says that upcoming House-Senate negotiations "will probably be difficult," and contexts with the observation that yesterday was the third time in four years the House had passed a patients' rights bill. Question: Why don't the leads' headlines make this clearer? For instance, from USAT's "BUSH WINS HMO PLAN," you'd think new law had already been made.
The NYT is alone in fronting a Senate committee's party line vote rejecting President Bush's choice to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission, handing him his first nomination defeat. No-voters expressed concern that Mary Sheila Gall, in her prior service as a commission member, hadn't pushed hard enough for the body's involvement in cases of dangerous baby products.
The LAT fronts the issuance yesterday by Democratic House and Senate leaders of a "manifesto" (the paper's word) calling for the U.S. to create a program for legalizing undocumented workers of all nationalities, not just those from Mexico.
USAT fronts a report from its Supreme Court correspondent, Joan Biskupic, that the Bush administration "to the dismay of some conservatives" plans to file a legal brief backing a current Department of Transportation program designed to help black and minority highway contractors. The story calls this "the White House's apparent reluctance to shut the door on race-conscious policies," and says one reason administration sources offer for the stance is not wanting to alienate Hispanic voters.
The Wall Street Journal and LAT report that via a letter to a congressman from a State Department official, the Bush administration has backed away from a Clinton administration promise that the U.S. would comply by 2006 with an international treaty banning land mines, because it believes U.S. forces still may need to use them. Given that some 140 countries have signed the treaty, this new stance clearly has Kyoto-like political blowback potential.
USAT reefers word that this Saturday, President Bush is going to begin a month-long vacation at his Texas ranch. The paper notes that this would "tie the modern record for presidential absence from the White House" currently held by Richard Nixon. The story reports that some Republicans worry that the time off will reinforce the impression of Bush as delegating too much to Dick Cheney and others, and will not go over well with the average American, who only gets 13 vacation days a year.
And speaking of Americans on long vacations, the NYT reports inside that Al Gore will be "easing back into American politics" this fall by training Democratic "operatives" in New Jersey, New York, and Virginia for the fall elections and then founding a PAC to support congressional candidates. The story features former Tennessee senator James Sasser's reason why he thinks Gore will run for president again: "After all, he got a half million more votes than the other guy." But the story should also discomfit Democrats with its revelation about Gore's latest style change: While on a European vacation, he's grown a beard. That is, Today's Papers reminds, something no president has had since Benjamin Harrison, who was elected in 1889.