Bush on Rx drugs

Robert Novak
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Posted: Oct 18, 2003 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- Before he left on his current Asian trip, President Bush privately passed word that he is keeping a close eye on the negotiations for prescription drug subsidies and will not sign an unacceptable bill.

Earlier in the year, conservative Republicans in Congress were antagonized by reports that Bush would sign any Medicare bill passed by Congress in order to get the prescription drug issue off Republican backs in 2004. Majority Leader Tom DeLay made it clear that House Republicans would not yield either to the Senate or the White House to accept a broader, more expensive bill.

Bush has let congressional leaders know that Vice President Dick Cheney will be standing in for him while the president is in Asia, and they will keep a close watch on the Senate-House conference committee's negotiations. That raises the question of whether a bill acceptable to Bush and Cheney can pass the muster of Edward M. Kennedy and other Democrats in the Senate.

"PRINCIPAL" W

Republican Rep. Zach Wamp of Tennessee, who had been demanding changes in the $87 billion appropriations bill for Iraq, ended up fully supporting the measure thanks to a heart-to-heart talk with President Bush.

Wamp, who usually is a dependable vote for the administration, wanted to turn the $20 billion appropriation for Iraqi reconstruction into loans. He changed his mind about loans, as the saying goes on Capitol Hill, when the White House "called him down to the principal's office." After being lectured by the president in the Oval Office, Wamp made a vigorous floor speech on behalf of the bill Thursday.

Word about getting dressed down by "the principal" may have impeded lobbying efforts to change the bill by conservative Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California. Rank-and-file GOP lawmakers did not relish having to go through Wamp's experience.

ENVIRONMENTALIST ARNOLD

Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger has suggested he will bring California into partnership with liberal Northeastern attorneys general and left-wing green organizations in suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to require that carbon dioxide be listed as a pollutant.

The lawsuit is being led by Democratic Attorneys General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Tom Reilly of Massachusetts and Steven Rowe of Maine.

A footnote: On his conservative side, Schwarzenegger has come out in favor of tax-limitation and spending-limitation amendments to the California Constitution that would be subject to a vote of the people.

LOBBYING FOR CLONING

The biotech industry has hired Princeton Public Affairs, a well-connected New Jersey lobbying firm, to pass the nation's most extreme bill in favor of human cloning in a lame-duck session of the legislature after this year's November election.

The "somatic cell nuclear transfer" bill was passed by the New Jersey State Senate last December, but was taken off the floor of the Assembly in February when supporters could not get enough votes. Four members of President Bush's Council on Bioethics contended the bill "expressly authorizes the creation of new human beings by cloning."

Democratic leaders plan to bring up the bill immediately after the election. One of the partners in Princeton Public Affairs is Dale Florio, who is Somerset County Republican chairman.

SEN. COBURN?

Dr. Thomas Coburn, the country doctor who became a national favorite of conservative Republicans during three terms in Congress (1995-2000), is saying no to requests that he support a Senate campaign next year by Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphries. Coburn may be a candidate himself, if health permits.

Coburn, who was voluntarily term-limited in the House, is suffering from colon cancer but looked robust on a recent visit to Washington. He was elected from eastern Oklahoma's heavily Democratic district, which reverted to Democratic hands after Coburn retired.

The decision by Republican Sen. Don Nickles not to seek re-election makes his seat highly competitive. The likely Democratic candidate is Rep. Brad Carson, who succeeded Coburn in the House.