WASHINGTON -- Each of the two leading Republicans in Congress -- House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist -- is prepared to take personal control of the looming battle over Medicare and prescription drug benefits.
Both Hastert and Frist have misgivings about President Bush's plans. As the only physician in the Senate, Frist is more familiar with the Medicare problem than with any other policy area. Before becoming speaker, Hastert led the Republican task force on health care.
However, the two leaders will not find the field all to themselves. In the House, two committee chairmen -- Bill Thomas (Ways and Means) and Billy Tauzin (Commerce) -- are battling each other for jurisdiction over prescription drugs. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley also has strong views, particularly about Medicare in rural areas.
DANGER FOR DEMOCRATS
The three most moderate Democrats running for president are avoiding the left-wing Take Back America rally in Washington Wednesday through Friday. Sens. Joseph Lieberman, John Edwards and Bob Graham are not scheduled to appear.
The party's other six presidential hopefuls will speak. They will join an all-star cast of leftist speakers including Robert Borosage, Donna Brazile, Robert Reich, Bill Moyers, Ralph Neas, Michael Moore, Eric Alterman, Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, among many others.
Presidential supporters of Sen. John Kerry, scheduled to speak Thursday afternoon, worry about his association with these activists. Old-timers remember Sen. George McGovern's experience attending a conference of the left-wing National Welfare Rights Organization at which he endorsed a cash payment to all Americans. That idea helped sink his 1972 presidential candidacy in the general election.
Political insiders in California now see a 30 to 40 percent chance of validating enough petition signatures to put the recall of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis on the state ballot this autumn. If that happens, chances are good that Davis will be removed from office.
More likely, however, the Davis recall will not go before voters until the March 2004 primary election. The governor's chances for survival would be better then, with Democratic voters out in greater numbers because of California's presidential primary.