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Clinton Vows to Renew Bid for Patients' 'Bill of Rights'

Politics: In radio address, president also pushes education agenda. Rhetoric overshadows behind-the-scenes efforts to resolve legislative issues.


WASHINGTON — President Clinton vowed Saturday to renew his fight next year for congressional approval of a patients' "bill of rights" designed to empower an estimated 160 million Americans in their dealings with HMOs and other managed care organizations.

Clinton issued the pledge during his weekly radio address, only a day after the Republican-controlled Senate officially killed a broad managed-care reform bill amid the rush of business in the waning days of the 105th Congress.

The president's decision to emphasize health care reform underscores his administration's long-standing interest in the topic and suggests it could become a top-tier issue in the midterm congressional elections just over three weeks away. A number of candidates around the country in both parties already are emphasizing HMO reform in their campaigns.

In his radio remarks from the Oval Office, the president also delivered a spirited pitch for his education initiatives while criticizing the Republican majority in Congress for its tardiness in passing annual appropriations bills to fund government operations in the new fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.

With lawmakers eager to go home to campaign--but unable to do so until agreement can be reached on a new budget--political rhetoric overshadowed behind-the-scenes negotiations as the House and Senate assembled Saturday to grapple with an array of unresolved legislative issues.

In midafternoon, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) convened a Capitol press conference to slam the conduct of White House budget negotiators, accusing them of publicly misrepresenting the private discussions.

"Trust is at a very minimal level right now," Lott fumed.

Lott said Republicans will assign "the highest priority next year" to broad tax relief following this year's failure to enact a big tax cut. He also characterized Democratic attacks on Republican education initiatives as "pure demagoguery."

Congress and the president already have approved two stopgap funding bills to avert a government shutdown. Negotiators representing the White House and congressional leaders are expected to meet through the weekend to iron out their considerable differences over issues ranging from social spending to abortion policies. The second "continuing resolution" to keep government running will expire at midnight Monday.

On Saturday, just two hours after Clinton's radio address, several dozen congressional Democrats held a pep-rally-style press conference in the Capitol to promote Clinton's education agenda, which would provide funding for 100,000 new elementary school teachers and a school modernization program.

But GOP congressional leaders quickly struck back.

Accusing the president of being "distracted by other problems," Rep. Bill Archer (R-Texas), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, criticized Clinton for having raised taxes, increased government spending and "turned his back on overtaxed working Americans," an apparent reference to the White House opposition to a broad tax cut.

Archer also chastised Clinton for opposing GOP education initiatives, including his veto of a bill that would have created tax-preferred savings accounts that could be used for private school tuition.

Democrats have said such programs would deplete public funding for public schools.

In the Republican radio response, Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), head of the House GOP Conference, trumpeted the work of the Republican Congress, claiming credit for achieving a historic balanced budget and an overhaul of the Internal Revenue Service, which he called "the first real step toward a fairer, flatter and simpler tax code."

The president, in his address, blamed Senate Republicans for killing the HMO reform legislation, a version of which was approved by the House in July.

"Rest assured I will ask the next Congress to guarantee your right to see a specialist, to receive the nearest emergency care, to keep your doctor throughout your course of treatment, to keep your medical records private and have other basic health care rights," Clinton said. "I hope next year we'll have a Congress that agrees."

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