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Text: Senate Majority Leader Holds News Briefing

Friday, June 22, 2001

Following is the transcript of a news briefing by Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle on the patients rights legislation being debated in the Senate.

THOMAS DASCHLE: The pending amendment is really a pretty clear-cut statement. I thought the best thing to do, just so everybody knows what it is--the McCain amendment--it is the sense of the Senate that men and women battling life-threatening, deadly diseases, including advanced breast or ovarian cancer, should have the opportunity to participate in a federally approved or federally funded clinical trial recommended by their physician.

An individual should have the opportunity to participate in a federally approved or funded clinic trial recommended by their physician if that individual has a life-threatening or serious illness for which no standard treatment is effective. That's what the amendment says.

And for the life of me, I can't understand why somebody would oppose it, but apparently many of our Republican colleagues are going to oppose the amendment.

The point is, for lack of a better term, experimental medicine sometimes can be the only option available to people in life-threatening diseases. What we want to do is to ensure that a patient has access to federally approved or federally funded experimental medicine when it is in the physician's best judgment that that could save a patient's life. That is one of the big differences between our bill and the Republican bill.

Our bill says exactly that. Their bill says only in rare, rare circumstances should they be eligible for that. In fact, it makes it almost impossible to get the kind of experimental treatment that would be available under these kinds of circumstances.

It was kind of ironic in a way, Make A Wish Foundation yesterday sponsored a young boy and his family to Washington, that was his wish to come to Washington and meet the president and come to Congress. He's battling cancer. He's 16 years old. And I don't know whether he's had opportunities for the exposure to experimental medicine or not.

But I sympathize with him and his family because he's going through circumstances that, were my children experiencing a similar matter of the gravity that an illness of this kind represents, you would want to do everything possible.

We're not saying that they have to pay for every dollar of medical care. What we're saying is that when it comes for the hospitalization, you ought to have access. Insurance companies are denying that access today. And so, that's why this amendment is so important.

You know, it just goes to the heart of what this bill of rights is all about.

This is just one illustration of what we're talking about when we say, ``a bill of rights rather than a bill of suggestions.''

There's a big difference between our bill and their bill. This isn't just rhetoric. This is fact, this is real, and it's real in patients' lives. And that's why I want people to be aware of it, and that's why this amendment is so important.

Let me say, there's also something very real, and that's the unbelievable spread of HIV-AIDS all over the world. There was a story in the paper today that 36 million people in Africa now are experiencing HIV-AIDS, 15,000 new victims a day.

We made a down payment to addressing that concern yesterday as the appropriations committee, under Senator Byrd's leadership, provided $100 million to begin addressing it; $100 million is a very important first step.

I just want to publicly acknowledge Senator Byrd's leadership and his willingness to commit those resources. As you know, he had to find an offset to do this, but he did. And I'm very pleased that is going to be part of the supplemental.

I think it's just a matter of time before this country becomes far more engaged in the battle than we are today, and this is a recognition that we need to be engaged. And I hope that it sends as clear a message that people in Congress care deeply for this and want to be able to address it as it is being addressed in other parts of the world.

Nothing new to report on the resolution, the organizing resolution. It's kinds of like a soap opera. It's sort of day by day, nothing changes. But stay tuned.

Now we're back to negotiating the actual language of the resolution. I've indicated now for, I think, it seems like a week--I don't know if it's been a week--that I'm prepared to have the vote.

I think what we're going to try to do is have the vote in the Judiciary Committee on blue slips because that's really where the vote is relevant, in the Judiciary Committee. So Senator Leahy has indicated an interest and a commitment to have that blue slip vote take place early next week.

And then we will have a vote on the so-called issue of Supreme Court nominations on the Senate floor in concert with the vote on the resolution at some point next week.

I expect that it will happen, of course, after the patients' bill of rights is completed. As I've said, before we leave we need to do three things: finish the patients' bill of rights, finish the organizing resolution, and than also do the supplemental.

So we'll have a busy next week. I hope that we could be out as early as Thursday night, but we'll see. In fact, I'm going to go to the floor at about 10:25 and announce the schedule for next week, and that's really it.

So I'm going to stop there and take your questions, if you have any.

QUESTION: A couple months ago there was an afternoon debate on the export administration act and it went back to the calendar. You have any intent on moving that?

DASCHLE: Absolutely.

QUESTION: You know what's going to happen to that?

DASCHLE: Absolutely. I think we should move it. Some of our Republican colleagues apparently have continued to express their reservations about it. But I want to do it. I wish we could do it without taking a lot of the time of the Senate, but it may take some time. I'm going to be presenting a list to Senator Lott next week of the legislation that I'd like to see the Senate consider, and that will certainly be one of the priority items.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) before the August recess?

DASCHLE: Well, I don't know if I can put a time frame on it at this point. Certainly, I'd like to do it before the August recess. It would, I think, depend a little bit on how much time it's going to take.

QUESTION: On the organizing resolution, are negotiations now, are they still under way (OFF-MIKE)

DASCHLE: Well, there sort of were two levels of these negotiations.

The first level was what, in addition to the simple resolution, is on the table for consideration. And it ended up being those two questions, the blue slip and the Supreme Court nominees.

The second level is, of course, the resolution itself. And I thought we had everything agreed to, but now a matter has come up relating to Rules Committee jurisdiction on space and staff and--primarily space, I guess, and budgets. And it's more a need for clarification than it is any real negotiation, but that will hopefully take place today.

QUESTION: Is anything else coming up on AIDS in Africa besides this $100 million? Is there anything else (OFF-MIKE)

DASCHLE: I think that in the context of the larger legislative agenda, there's no question that a number of other issues relating to HIV-AIDS will be coming up.

I'm hopeful that, because this is a supplemental, it's an indication of what we might be able to do in the overall appropriations process for the next fiscal year. But I haven't talked to Senator Byrd about that, and I don't know what his intentions are.

But I just think that it's important for us to keep pressing for additional action, both in appropriations as well as in policy.

QUESTION: On the clinical trials that you were talking about, is there some reason that the researchers don't want these extra patients in their trials? Is there an issue beyond just (OFF-MIKE) I'm trying to understand Republican resistance to this, what else could be...

DASCHLE: I don't know. I need to be careful here, but I think the most accurate statement for me to make is that I know of no opposition from researchers to this. That doesn't mean some doesn't exist somewhere.

But I do know about position from the HMOs. They don't want to do it because they don't want to have to pay the cost.

And, again, it's just a question of whose side you're on, the HMOs or the patients.

QUESTION: I was wondering, did traditional fee-for-service programs ever have a history of assisting with the health care costs?

DASCHLE: Some of them have, absolutely. I don't know that it's accurate to say all of them do, because I'm quite sure they don't. But there are many fee-for-service plans that have clinical trials access and benefits.

QUESTION: Can you--you're saying that you think you can finish patients' rights by Thursday?

DASCHLE: I'm not saying that we'll do it. I'm saying that that would be my hope.

QUESTION: I know, but could we get real for a moment?


Has there been a discussion about how many amendments they have?

QUESTION: Have you had this kind of discussion?

DASCHLE: I have had general discussions about the number of amendments. And they aren't sure how many amendments they have at this point.

QUESTION: So when do we start to get to where--that won't really until next week--or people will say, we won't call for 30 amendments or 10, 15, that hasn't happened yet...


DASCHLE: That's correct.

QUESTION: ... timely discussion. Your inclination is still to stay...

DASCHLE: Absolutely. You know, having watched my Senate colleagues for a long period of time, I know that the desire to leave oftentimes is a powerful one. There are plane tickets to be concerned about and a number of other issues regarding schedule that have to be considered.

But I know this: There is absolutely no reason why this debate needs to last longer than the two weeks we've allotted for it. We did in four days two years ago, and we ought to be able to do it in the time allotted this time.

But I'm in no hurry. And I've indicated to my caucus that we are going to stay here. And I have no reservations about coming back on Saturday and the following week.

QUESTION: Do you have a list of amendments (OFF-MIKE)

DASCHLE: We're obviously open, as I've said on so many occasions, to refinements and alterations. Senators have come forth with some ideas, and as those ideas are presented, we're looking at them.

There are very few amendments that are contemplated on our side. I think, in fact, I could say almost none.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Snowe has an amendment to straighten out something for her...

DASCHLE: Well, that's a Republican amendment.

QUESTION: Well, no--yes. But I'm asking, you want to pick up some more votes...


QUESTION: So then you would, I would think, engage...


DASCHLE: Absolutely.

QUESTION: ... to say what bothers you. So that's what I'm asking: Are there other examples that you can give us of amendments that you anticipate from moderate Republicans that would help build your base?

DASCHLE: There are a number of amendments that are contemplated. I think that the Snowe amendment is probably the best example regarding employer liability that I can think of, of our desire to go the extra mile to ensure the very limited liability that we want employers to have here. She has worked on an amendment with a number of our colleagues for sometime, and I think that I'm in a position to be supportive of it.

But I couldn't give you a list today. I know that there are other conversations going on. I think John Edwards and Senator McCain and Kennedy would be in a better position to give you a more authoritative answer.

QUESTION: Do you know when Snowe might come up?

DASCHLE: Well, I don't think it's coming up anymore this week. But early next week.

QUESTION: On the McCain amendment for a second, I mean, it's a nonbinding resolution. Why so much emphasis on this? What's really the point?

DASCHLE: I think what you're hearing from some of our Republicans is, ``We're for patients' bill of rights, too, it's just not this one.''

But what we're saying is there's a big difference between a patients' bill of rights and a patients' bill of suggestions or, you know, just shortcomings here that fall far short of what the expectations ought to be if you're going to address this.

And this is just one illustrative example of the difference between the bills, and we wanted to have the debate about this so people understand that difference. And that, in essence, is what this amendment debate is about.

QUESTION: If it is nonbinding...

DASCHLE: No, it is in the bill. This is already in the bill.

QUESTION: So the McCain is nonbinding, though, right?

DASCHLE: This amendment is the sense of the Senate, but it calls attention to parts of the bill that are not sense of the Senate. It calls attention to the bills that are...


QUESTION: You devised a nonbinding vehicle to cause attention, to call attention to the differences between you and the Republicans?

DASCHLE: Correct.

QUESTION: Are you going to do any more of that?

DASCHLE: We're not sure at this point.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that for a second, you said in your opening statement that you didn't expect HMOs to pay every dollar for the clinical trials.

QUESTION: I'm trying to understand what is it you do expect of them?

DASCHLE: What we expect of them is to pay the traditional costs associated with hospital care. They're not necessarily required to pay for the actual experimental treatment; that may be something that is done by the individual.

But the traditional care provided under circumstances like this should not be exempt from coverage, and today it is. That's the difference.


DASCHLE: Well, I thought we...


DASCHLE: That's a good question because it's one that we were contemplating yesterday right before the tax vote.

We really wanted to win that tax vote, because we thought if we won that one, we would probably discourage future ones. We won it handily. We won it without even having two of our members who would have been supportive there. And so, I felt very good. And I'm hopeful that having won that tax vote, we've now shut down the idea of having more tax votes.

You know, we're going to get into other questions, liability questions, and I'm hoping we can be as successful there. But that's in essence what--these test votes are very important, because, I think, it shows the kind of coalition there is here, ultimately, and that's what we need to keep showing as these votes come up.

QUESTION: Why not stay longer today and work on some of these?

DASCHLE: Well, that would have been my choice. But I want to respect senator's schedules. You know, there are several senators who have matters that they want to attend to in their states, and have indicated that they need to leave late morning to be able to get to them this afternoon or tonight.

QUESTION: Senator, you say that you want a bill. You want something that will actually become law. Does the president's, I guess (OFF-MIKE)

DASCHLE: Well, I think a lot of this will have to be worked out in conference.

I thought that veto letter sounded like it was written by the HMOs. That isn't what we need.

We don't need more confrontation. We need more cooperation and consideration of what opportunities there are for real compromise here.

As I've said from the very beginning, we're willing to keep talking. But it doesn't do those talks any good to be threatened by vetoes. I think, ultimately, what we've got to do is find a way to resolve these matters.

QUESTION: Has talk over the lawsuits overshadowed some of the differences you actually have on the patient protections and so on?

DASCHLE: I think so. I think there's been so much focus on the lawsuits when, if you look in California with their patients' bill of rights, they've not even had a lawsuit yet. In Texas, in over four years, they've only had 17 lawsuits, less than five a year. So it's no question, this is not a major issue for those states that have already enacted good a patient's bill of rights.

But I do think it's a very important matter in holding HMOs accountable, and we'll keep reiterating that position and that strong feeling about the bill.

QUESTION: Senator, as the bill goes to Congress, doesn't it give Republicans a good opportunity to kill it like they did in '99 and 2000?

DASCHLE: Well, keep in mind that, last time, you had an overwhelming vote in the House--Dingell-Norwood passed with 60 Republican members. But a Republican version passed in the Senate. This time, the Democrats control the Senate, and we'll be hopefully working with a very sympathetic group of House members who will have passed it there. So I think the environment is much better this year for completion of our work in conference than it was last time.

QUESTION: Given the focus that the Republicans and the White House have put on liability, how much wiggle room is there? How much room is there to accommodate some of the other concerns?

DASCHLE: Well, that's a question--how much wiggle room? That's a hard one to answer. I don't know how much wiggle room there is. I think it depends a little bit on what kind of a vote we get and how strong the support is for what it is we're trying to do. I mean, if we have a strong vote, I think that there is, going into the conference, it'll be a very good negotiating position. If we just eke out a victory, it'll mean something else.

But it's important for us to keep the pressure on and to keep fighting, to making sure people understand what these questions are all about.

QUESTION: Senator, you said a moment ago, that you thought (OFF-MIKE)

DASCHLE: But David asked earlier how many amendments there are, and I have no idea. And Senator Lott indicated yesterday, he wasn't sure how many there would be. So I don't know that--not only do we not know the number of amendments, we don't know the type of amendments that are likely to be offered. So we just have to take this a day at a time and that's what we're doing.

QUESTION: So what signal (OFF-MIKE), in your view?

DASCHLE: Well, the signal that's sent was that there is a coalition of senators, Republican and Democrat, who believe that tax amendments have no place on a patient's bill of rights. That coalition was a sound one. It soundly defeated this amendment and I'm hopeful that it's the last tax amendment we'll have. It may not be, but I'm confident now that we can win future tax amendments, just like we won this one. I've got to get out on the floor.

Thank you, everybody.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company


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