FTN - 06/17/01

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BOB SCHIEFFER: Today on Face the Nation, Minority Leader Trent Lott and Democrat Ted Kennedy. The Senate agenda: patients' bill of rights, minimum wage and missile defense.

Where do the Republicans stand now, and what do the Democrats want? What is Congress' view of President Bush's trip to Europe. All questions for the Minority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi and Senator Kennedy of Massachusetts.

Gloria Borger's here, and I'll have a final word on Father's Day. But first, Republican Leader Trent Lott on Face the Nation.

Good morning, again. In the studio with us, the Republican leader in the Senate, Trent Lott.

Happy Father's Day to you, sir.

SEN. TRENT LOTT, R-MS, Minority Leader: Well, thank you very much. And let me extend Happy Father's Day wishes to those fathers and grandfathers, like the two of us, all across America. I've already got one of my Father's Day presents.

SCHIEFFER: Have you?

LOTT: Yes, it's a magnetic dartboard from my son and grandson to play with.

SCHIEFFER: There you go.

OK, well down to business. The president's home from Europe. I must say, Senator Lott, unlike what usually happens on these trips where there's a great stress on the things that bring the allies together, there seemed to be kind of a stress on all of the things that we don't agree on this time around - missile defense, the environmental issues. What's your assessment of what happened?

LOTT: Oh, I think this was a very strong trip for President Bush. I thought he handled himself well and found more allies probably than some people would have expected. I thought his meeting with President Aznar of Spain went quite well. I noticed the relationship he developed with Lord Robertson, the head of NATO, and of course with Putin. I was particularly impressed with that. I thought that the body English, if you will, was very strong.

This is nothing new for Europe to oppose U.S. positions. When we were trying to put offensive weapons in Europe, they were opposed to that. Now we're trying to put defensive weapons in the United States; they're opposed to that.

But I do think they want us to be open and communicative with them. I think that just the fact that they didn't know President Bush caused them concerns.

My impression of the media, which is certainly not friendly to President Bush in Europe and here, was that he handled himself quite well. He did know the subject matter, and he gave some very strong performances both in Sweden and in Poland.

SCHIEFFER: Well, let's go back to the meeting with the Russian president, Mr. Putin. The president said, "I looked him in the eye, and I think he's trustworthy." Do you trust him?

LOTT: Well, I don't know if I would put it in those terms, but we need to be able to trust each other. If the leaders of two of the most important countries in the world cannot look each other in the eyand develop a relationship and a trust, then we have real trouble.

Putin's an interesting character. He didn't have a political background to amount of anything.

SCHIEFFER: No, he's the former head of the KGB.

LOTT: KGB.

But he has shown some interesting initiatives. One interesting thing, when I was in Europe a month or so ago, the Europeans almost immediately on national defense said, oh, no, we don't want that. But when Russia said, well, we would be interested in discussing that, all of a sudden they said, well, OK, if the Russians are not that upset about it, maybe we should at least talk about it.

So he has shown some innovation, and I think that they will develop a good relationship.

GLORIA BORGER, U.S. News & World Report: : Senator, if I could switch to an issue that's been quite controversial at the end of this past week, and that was the administration's decision to end the training exercises on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques by May 2003.

You said, and let me quote you here, that you disagreed very strongly with that decision, was very clear you had not been contacted about it in advance. What went wrong?

LOTT: Well, I do feel that we need a place where we can have this type of a coordinated training, and the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, is where we've been doing that for over 50 years.

I defer in terms of expertise on the subject like this to John Warner, the senior member of the Armed Services Committee, former chairman, and to Senator Jim Inhofe and others who are very knowledgeable.

I think we need it. I don't think we have a viable alternative right now. You know, I'm not complaining about needing to be briefed, but I think that if we knew more about why this decision was made and what are the options, it would have been better.

And I have since talked to the administration officials. I understand their rationale. These are not people from some foreign country, this is Puerto Rico; they are our neighbors. They do have a very strong feeling about this situation.

Now, I thought it was a mistake at the end of the Clinton administration to move toward a referendum, where the people more or less would vote whether or not to have this type of training. Are we going to start allowing that at, you know at Ft. Seal in Oklahoma or Eglin Air Force Base in Florida? You can't start having military training based on referenda.

BORGER: : Do you think this was a political decision?

LOTT: No, I think it was a decision made in conjunction with the new secretary of the Navy that, with modern technology and use of other facilities, something could be done.

I think it was political in that, perhaps, it was a realization that this situation could not continue; that at some point we probably were going to have to look for another alternative.

I know that there are those that allege had something to do with Puerto Ricans, perhaps een in New York. I hope that was not the basis for it. I think we need to consider national security and appropriate training for our military men and women first.

And that's why it does disturb me, because there is not now, that I know of - and I've talked to some of our expert senators in this area - another place where we can have the coordinated amphibious landing and bombardment and air firing that that facility allows.

SCHIEFFER: Senator, let me ask you, because I hear this over and over. I hear Republican senators, conservative Republican senators, who say they just seem to have no contact with this White House. They're surprised by things that are happening.

Is there something wrong here? Is the president got a problem with his congressional relations or what's going on?

LOTT: Actually, no. I think they have a very good congressional relations office. I certainly can't complain about not having contact.

SCHIEFFER: Well, you just said though...

LOTT: Well, in this case, you know, I got it a day or two late and didn't know the decision was coming. I don't know who needs to be notified, but if you need to let your allies know what the basis for decision was so that we can hopefully understand it, and explain it even if we don't agree with it.

But if you go back and look at previous administrations, the Clinton administration, the Carter administration, the Reagan administration, you don't always, you know, contact the right people soon enough or quick enough when a decision - I think this one frankly got out perhaps through the military service quicker than was intended and therefore the appropriate contacts were not made. But I know that they're going to try to correct that in the coming days.

BORGER: : Let's switch for a moment to health care. The patients' bill of rights is going to be coming up on the Senate floor this Tuesday. The McCain-Kennedy version of this bill, the Democratic version of the bill seems quite popular. You oppose it. Does it have the votes to pass?

LOTT: Well, it will depend on what final form it is in. There will be amendments. Well, first of all, I think they've already changed the bill based on some points that were made to them last week, and they may actually have an altered bill that will be the one that we start debating. There will be amendments offered. And, you know, perhaps it could be corrected enough that it could pass. Perhaps it'll even pass on a broad, bipartisan basis.

Now, the bill I prefer is closer to the Breaux-Frist-Jeffords bill. But there is a lot of agreement here that there are some guarantees that are needed for patients. When they're not given an appropriate decision, they need to have a way to have that considered, reconsidered, and if it is not honored go to court. But, the question is, do you go to court first, or do you wait through an appeals process for that to be exhausted before yo turn to the plaintiffs' lawyers to file a lawsuit? Look, this is about patients' needs, not about heirs collecting.

SCHIEFFER: Well, but let's go back to just something you said there about the McCain-Kennedy version of this bill. The heart of that is that you can go into state court and sue your HMO. Are you saying you can conceive some sort of situation where you would go along with that provision?

LOTT: I doubt if I would go along with it the way they have it written, and it's much bigger than that. It is a question of, when can you file a lawsuit? What are the limits on liability? What is the scope? Who is covered?

And the main thing we don't want to do is to wind up passing a bill that causes people to lose coverage and to have their rates increased. I think we can do a lot of good in this area without the result of there being this loss of coverage and increase in rates.
Now, where you sue is an important point, but I think that is one that can be bridged. The limits on liability and when you sue is, you know, I think, in many respects, more important. And the scope is also very important.

SCHIEFFER: I want to just keep on with this just a little bit, because, as we know the bill that the president favors allows you to sue only in federal court. If I understand what I just think I barely hear in the background, I think I hear Trent Lott saying...

LOTT: I think it was an echo.

SCHIEFFER: ... maybe you could work out a way where could you sue in state court, and you could go along with that.

LOTT: You know, I'm willing to look at that. One of our concerns of course is a lot of the state courts are controlled by the plaintiffs' bar, and we're worried about that. On the other hand, I can see circumstances where being able to go to state court would be acceptable.

BORGER: : How about a compromise on the other big issue you were talking about, the liability issue? The Democrats say they'll go for a cap of, say, $5 million when you sue. You're talking about $500,000. There is a big difference there.

LOTT: Well, then also there are a lot of little nuance there. This bill, the McCain-Edwards-Kennedy bill has had a lot of input from my plaintiff lawyers, special interest friends. And they were told this is a cap on just economic damages. What about the so-called pain and suffering? I mean, I think there should be an overall cap.

This is not about enriching attorneys. This is about giving patients a result, a decision that will give them the care that they're entitled to.

SCHIEFFER: Are you just going to let this come to a vote if it's not a bill that you favor? Will you try to filibuster this bill?

LOTT: Well, that's not our intent at the beginning. I had indicated back months ago that it was my plan as majority leader at the time to call up a patients' bill of rights bill. We would have started with a diffeent version.

We've got a good team on our side that includes Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Senator Don Nichols of Oklahoma and Dr. Bill Frist that are going to work with us and try to produce a product.

The president wants to sign a bill. There is clearly some rights that patients should have in terms of emergencies and pediatric care and women that need ob-gyn. We need to find common ground, not find a place to fight.

BORGER: : If you don't find as much common ground as you're talking about now and the Kennedy-McCain version of the bill passes, would you encourage President Bush to veto it? Should he veto it?

LOTT: I think he should be prepared to veto a bad bill. I don't think he should look for that to be the result. But if it's in the form that the McCain-Edwards-Kennedy bill was last week, I don't think there would be any choice but to veto it.

But I don't think it is going to be the end result. It's going to go through an amendment process in the Senate; it'll have to go to conference. Hopefully, the House will come up with a better bill than the Norwood-Dingell bill that passed last time, and they will produce an even better bill that will go to the president. And my guess is, at the end of the day, we'll probably get a bill signed.

SCHIEFFER: I want to go back to this. I hear a Trent Lott that seems open to some compromise here, not one that says no way, no how.

LOTT: You know, you can dig in and, you know, have trench warfare, or you can say, look, there is an area where we need to do some things and we ought to try and find a way to do it and do it properly. And, you know, we have a long way to go, but it is possible.

We did it on education. Just last week, a bill that people would never have believed would pass the Senate, 91-8. Does it still have some need for improvement? Yes. I'd like more reforms. We clearly can't spend the amount of money that's in the bill, but that was a magnificent achievement.

SCHIEFFER: All right. We'll going to leave it there. Thank you so much, Senator Lott.

When we come back, we'll talk to Senator Ted Kennedy about all this in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCHIEFFER: And with us now in New Orleans in the studios of our powerful WWL affiliate in New Orleans, Senator Edward Kennedy.

Senator Kennedy, thank you for joining us.

You heard Senator Lott. Did you sense - I sensed that Senator Lott is ready maybe to take another look at your bill here this morning.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY, D-MA: Well, that's been the real regret of the administration and the Republican leadership. This last week, as Senator Lott pointed out, we passed a good education bill 91-8. And that's a result of a long, continuing, ongoing effort by the administration to work with the members of the United States Senate, work with our committee, work with the Leader Tom Daschle, and we were able to get the jodone.

That's not been true with the patients' bill of rights, nor has it been true with regards to the environment, nor with regards to energy. And that's because the administration is too allied with the HMO industry with regards to patients' bill of rights, too allied with the oil industry with regards to energy, too allied with Wall Street with regards to the privatization on Social Security.

I wish we could have the kind of effort that we did have on education so that we can get a job done in protecting patients. That's what this is legislation is all about, is protecting patients and protecting doctors.

SCHIEFFER: But what did you make of what Senator Lott just said because, as you well know, the (OFF-MIKE) limits people going, if they have to sue their HMO, to going into a federal court, where critics say, of course, that the dockets are so backlogged it would be very difficult to bring these cases to trial.

But Senator Lott seemed to say this morning, he is now willing to take a look at a bill that would allow you to go into state court, not - he obviously thinks there should be some restrictions on it, but that seems to be a little bit of a shift in the Republican position.

KENNEDY: Well, we certainly would be encouraged by that attitude.

Basically the legislation, the McCain-Edwards part of the legislation in particular, and they've worked very, very hard on it, and they've really made a very important contribution to it in moving this legislation towards the center, follows the Supreme Court precedence where we're going to follow the basic kinds of malpractice decisions in the state courts.

Let the states decide. This is an administration that always wants to let the states decide. Let the states decide on the issues of the medical procedures, and let the federal government make the decisions with regard to contract. So this is certainly encouraging.

But why liability is important is not because we are expecting a great many suits. We are not. But we know that when you have the liability provisions put into legislation, the HMOs more often do the right thing. And when you don't, too often they do the wrong thing.

That's been true now in Texas, where they have the liability provisions for the last three years and they've only had a dozen cases. And it's also true in California that has passed a tough HMO bill in January of this year. They haven't had any lawsuits at all. They've had over 200 cases that have gone to appeal. Sixty percent of them are decided by the HMOs. And even the industry itself, the HMO industry has said that they're surprised that there haven't been more suits. And the system's working.

Let's go ahead and protect patients - that's what this is all about. Too often managed care has meant mismanaged care in the past. Let's not gag doctors. Let's not let HMOs overrule family physicians and families on medical decisions, and let's protect American paients.

BORGER: : Senator, are you saying effectively though that you have compromised as much as you can and that there's no give on your side on the issue of liability for example?

KENNEDY: We're always interested in ideas and suggestions as we were in the education legislation. That was an evolving, moving process, but you have some fundamental kinds of commitments and that is protecting the patients. And that what is we want to be able to do with this provision.

As I said, the idea of having this provision is to avoid the suits because what happens, the HMOs behave better. And the idea, for example, that has been raised frequently and against this provision is that it's going to increase costs. No one cares more about health care coverage than I do, and what we have seen is, where we have had this provision for liability, for example, in Texas, there hasn't been - their premiums are about the same level as they are in other parts of the country where they don't have the liability provisions.

We have 26 million Americans now that are covered with liability provisions, and the health care coverage hasn't really been very much different from health insurance premiums without it.

SCHIEFFER: Senator, we talked to Senator Lott about the president's trip to Europe. I'd like to get your view on that. Do you think this was a successful trip? Senator Lott seems to think it was quite successful, especially he seemed very pleased with the meeting with the president of Russia.

KENNEDY: Too early to tell. I think when the president takes, really, these bold positions, in terms of rejecting the global warming treaty and also announces a missile defense system which effectively isolates America from engagement in other parts of the world, those are obviously positions of which European leaders have questions.

So, I think, number one it was important that he travel to Europe. Number two; it's important that he be able to express his opinion. But we won't know the effect of that trip until down the road.

I think what we have to understand is that America can't have a go-it-alone American foreign policy. And that, I think, was the concern of many European leaders and I think to many Americans, as well. We'll just have to see what the follow-up is going to be in terms of American relationships with those countries and how this whole process is going to work its way out.

SCHIEFFER: Well, of course the argument over whether we ought to have an antiballistic missile system started in the administration of your brother, President Kennedy. Mr. McNamara was the first person who ordered a study of that. It has been going on ever since.

Is it your sense now that there is a chance that this Senate and this Congress would, in fact, give the go ahead to start on this?

KENNEDY: Well, there's a go ahead in terms of the research. With the research there is. I'm a member of th Armed Services Committee, and they have sort of a general rule, which I think is a pretty good one, and that is, fly before you buy. And the research and the tests that have been done to date have not been successful, so we have to continue that. I'm for that kind of effort and would support that.

But in the meantime, I think we ought to be engaged in trying to find out how we can reduce the tensions in many of these countries that pose a threat to the United States.
And beyond that, I personally believe that we are probably in greater danger from bioterrorism than we are from the dangers of missiles coming into the United States.

And beyond that, I think most experts, at least those that have appeared before our committee, have testified in the intelligence area that it's a simpler fact to bring in some kind of weapons systems in a suitcase and truck and a boat rather than through a ballistic missile system. So we ought to be alert to that as well.

I think we have a range of different kinds of issues that we ought to be thoroughly engaged. But to put all our energy, all our interests, all our statements on the terms of an untried system, I think needs to be further examined.

BORGER: : Senator, very quickly, another issue, minimum wage, something you care about. When and how do you plan to raise this in the Senate?

KENNEDY: Well, I would hope that the minimum wage would be the next order of business after the completion of the patients' bill of rights.

Basically the minimum wage issue is a women's issue because the majority of the minimum wage workers are women. It's a children's issue because a great many of those women have children, and it's what kind of care they're going to have. It's a civil rights issue because so many minimum wage workers are men and women of color. And basically it is a fairness issue because in the United States most Americans believe that if you work hard, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks of the year, you shouldn't have to live in poverty.

We've had the greatest economic expansion in the history of the country, and still Republicans are strongly opposed to increasing a minimum wage. You know, we increase our own salaries $3,800 a year just over a year ago. Seems to me we ought to give hard working Americans an increase of 50 cents this year, 50 cents next and 50 cents the following.

SCHIEFFER: I'm very sorry, Senator, we have to end it there. Thank you so much for joining us.

KENNEDY: Thank you very much.

SCHIEFFER: Back with a final word in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCHIEFFER: Finally today, you can look it up, more telephone calls are made on Mothers' Day than any other day of the year. It's a sweet thing to know. Moms deserve it.

But what day would you guess that most of the collect calls are made? You got it.

Father's Day. Paying the bills is just one part of being a dad.

Fatherhood, as every daknows, is an evolving process. In the early years, we're adored, the ultimate authority on everything.

But, as our children grow older, that changes. By the teenage years, they begin to suspect we don't know anything. It's as if we somehow became adults without experiencing anything having to do with school, sports, driving, music or certainly the opposite sex.

I'll never forget the first boy-girl party at our house. Mom was complimented on how nice she looked. My instructions were, "Dad, please just act normal."

And has a father, any father, ever told a joke that caused a teenager to laugh? Dad at least tried to act normal.

So for all the dads, a toast on our day, and some good news: If you're still in that stage where you're an embarrassment to the entire family, that, too, passes. Before long, the kids will be telling you again how smart you are, even if they don't believe it, but because they really love you. Or maybe because they've discovered they have learned a little something from you. That's going to make you proud, but by then you'll know you've learned a lot from them, too.

So, dads, enjoy the day, but remember: Act normal, and don't forget to pick up the check.

That's it. We'll see you next week on Face the Nation.



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