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Cheney Makes Return Trip to Pennsylvania

Politics: GOP candidate emphasizes Medicare reform and immediate drug coverage in efforts to court the senior vote.


PITTSBURGH — Dick Cheney, George W. Bush's running mate, once again took the campaign's message to Pennsylvania voters and their coveted 23 electoral college votes Tuesday.

The message of the day: Medicare reform and prescription drug benefits, issues the Republicans need to hit hard here to sway a state whose senior population is second only to Florida.

In particular, Cheney emphasized the Bush plan to immediately cover prescription costs of the neediest seniors through a four-year, $48-billion program called "An Immediate Helping Hand." The program would provide a bridge between needs of seniors right now and the time it will take to implement Bush's $110-billion proposal to "modernize" the 35-year-old Medicare system over 10 years.

The Bush plan calls for a total of $198 billion to overhaul the health care system for seniors and the disabled. Gore has proposed a 10-year, $253-billion plan to add a guaranteed prescription drug benefit to the existing Medicare system.

"Al Gore's plan wouldn't cover anyone until 2002 and wouldn't kick in fully until 2008," Cheney told a room of about 150 senior citizens at a Kingston Fire Station.

The Bush proposal was announced last week in nearby Allentown, which, like the rest of the state, can be a bit unpredictable politically. Pennsylvania has many Republican state officials and supported George Bush in 1988. But in 1992 and 1996 it also backed Bill Clinton.

This year it appears to be up for grabs, so Cheney touted the Republican health care plan again and again, often appearing with the elderly and frail. At the Baptist Homes in Pittsburgh, he stood at a lectern with residents of a senior living facility sitting behind him in rocking chairs, recliners and wheelchairs.

Cheney has noted many of these seniors--as he pointed out last week in Connecticut when he introduced a 103-year-old resident of one care facility--may not have the time to wait for Gore's plan to kick in.

It was a point echoed by Betty Stankus, 80, who introduced Cheney at the Kingston event.

"At my age, I don't have time for politics," she said. "I want progress."

After a rocky week that included revelations that he had not voted in 14 of the last 16 elections in his Texas hometown, including the March presidential primary, Cheney seemed at ease.

He even ventured out from behind the lectern to talk to the crowd at another event and, at one point, told a funny self-deprecating story.

The funny story?

During his final campaign in Wyoming, which he represented in Congress for nearly 10 years, Cheney said he was shaking hands at a small-town barbecue. When he came to an old cowboy, he stuck his hand out, introduced himself and asked for the man's vote.

"You've got it," the man told him. "That fool we've got in there now is no damn good."

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