Support Increases for Bush-Backed Patients' Rights Bill

Article excerpt

Byline: George Archibald

House supporters of a White House-backed patients' protection bill said yesterday they need just "a handful of votes" to pass the legislation instead of a Senate-passed measure opposed by President Bush, but House leaders may yet delay a vote planned this week.

"I'm perfectly willing to let people take their time to study things through," House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, told reporters at his daily Capitol Hill press briefing. "You have to be patient. We're confident we'll get there."

Mr. Armey said House GOP leaders had asked Mr. Bush "to engage, and he has engaged" to pressure reluctant Republicans to back the GOP-endorsed bill authored by Reps. Ernie Fletcher, Kentucky Republican, and Collin C. Peterson, Minnesota Democrat. Its rival is a House companion to the Senate-passed McCain-Kennedy-Edwards bill authored by Reps. Greg Ganske, Iowa Republican, and John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat.

Yesterday, Mr. Fletcher, a family physician, called a press conference with Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson to announce a one-vote gain in the behind-scenes arm-twisting - that of Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, who last year backed passage of the Ganske bill.

Mr. King said he was persuaded by health care policy experts in the office of New York's Republican governor, George E. Pataki, that the Fletcher bill was better. "I want a good bill the president can sign," he said. "It makes no sense to have a bill the president can't sign."

Mr. Fletcher said, "We're down to a handful of votes" between the two bills, and he expressed confidence his bill would pass "if we can educate the members."

Mr. Ganske, a reconstructive surgeon, said last week he expected all but a few Democrats to support his bill and that he had commitments from at least 20 Republicans, which would probably put him over the needed 218 votes for a majority. …