Inside Report: GOP to Bush: Help!

Robert Novak

7/19/2003 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak

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.

KENNEDY'S CLOUT

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?

Bill Simon, defeated for governor of California as the Republican nominee last year, is interviewing political operatives to work for him. That raises speculation he may place his name on the ballot in a recall election this fall to remove Democratic Gov. Gray Davis.

Alternatively, California Republican leaders would like Simon to be chairman of the recall campaign -- eliminating him as a candidate for governor. That could impel Simon to run against Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer's third-term bid next year.

A footnote: Interest in recently resigned U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin as Boxer's opponent has diminished among Republican insiders who first put forward Marin's name. They now say she should run for a lesser statewide office next year.

LOUISIANA HAYRIDE?

Louisiana Democratic leaders are putting out word that their state, still running counter to the Republican tide in the Deep South, may send two Democrats into the Nov. 15 runoff of this year's election for governor.

Polls show a comfortable lead for Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco in the non-party primary Oct. 4. Republican Bobby Jindal, a former HHS assistant secretary in the Bush administration, is running second. However, Democratic State Atty. Gen. Richard Ieyoub is moving up, and may soon pass Jindal.

With two Democratic senators, Louisiana lags behind other Deep South states joining the GOP camp. Gov. Mike Foster, who switched from Democrat to Republican just before his first race for governor in 1995, spurned White House pleas to run for the Senate last year.