WASHINGTON -- On the eve of a Senate-House conference to hammer out the final version of the prescription drug bill, House Republican leaders are pleading for help from President Bush, or at least from his aides.
So far, the White House has shown no support for the so-called 50-50 plan: adopt in the conference a bill close to the more market-oriented House version of the drug subsidies for seniors, which could get a 50-50 Senate vote with Vice President Dick Cheney casting the decisive vote. Instead, Bush's signal has been that he will sign any bill.
What really worries House leaders is the prospect that Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, the Senate Finance Committee chairman, will side with Democrats in the conference. A stronger position by Bush might bolster Grassley.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Senate's pre-eminent power broker, has handed Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist a take-it-or-leave-it choice: debate the hate crimes bill, or I will attach it to the State Department authorization bill.
Having guided through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the first State Department bill in many years, Chairman Richard Lugar does not relish seeing his handiwork mixed up with the hate crimes debate. Nevertheless, Frist has insisted to Kennedy that he cannot find time on the Senate calendar to debate his bill. Because Republican senators do not want to debate hate crimes legislation, Frist may take the State Department authorization off the floor.
Kennedy also has indicated he may use the same technique to pass an increase in the minimum wage if Frist does not schedule that measure.
EDWARDS VS. RUSSERT
While Sen. John Edwards's staffers indicate their boss will not return to NBC's "Meet the Press" after his dismal appearance on the program May 5 of last year, the Democratic presidential candidate himself signals he wants to try again.
On July 10, Edwards sent this brief message to moderator Tim Russert: "I'm looking forward to finding the time to come to your show. (signed) John." That message was sent three days after Edwards spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri was quoted in The Washington Post as saying the "great elite audience that watches 'Meet the Press'" is "not the audience we need to reach this summer."
Edwards was riding high before his grilling by Russert last year. Since then, he has slipped out of the top tier of Democratic candidates.
WHITHER BILL SIMON?