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Daschle vows to fight veto of patients' rights bill



WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Even before the House votes on its version of the patients' bill of rights, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Sunday he's "prepared for a fight" with the White House, which has vowed to veto the version passed by the Senate.

Republicans dug in their heels as well, urging President Bush to follow through on his promised veto of the measure.

"Well, I certainly hope he will," Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said on Fox News Sunday. "It was basically a lawyers' rights bill. Unfortunately, this bill is mainly about expanding litigation rights. We pretty much agreed on the scope issues, that is, what kind of health care people ought to be entitled to from their HMO. And the whole debate was largely over just how much do we want to do for the lawyers."

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By a 59-36 vote Friday, the Senate approved legislation that gives nearly 200 million Americans new health-care protections and grants them new rights to sue their HMOs.

The Republican-controlled House is set to choose between different versions of similar bills and lawmakers appear to be split along party lines.

Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert said Republicans would not try to block a vote on a version similar to the one passed by the Senate.

"Well, we're not going to block a vote. We're going to bring up a bill that I think is a better bill. It doesn't have the unintended consequences of what the Democrat bill would do. And I think we'd be able to pass our bill," Hastert said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Bush criticized the Senate-passed bill, saying it would lead to "unlimited litigation in state courts" that would "drive up premium costs and cause many American families to lose their health insurance."

Daschle, however, said Bush should allow the bill to become law.

"I'm prepared for a fight, but I hope we don't have one," Daschle told reporters after appearing on ABC's This Week. "I don't think that it's necessary to have a fight. We're almost there. I would hope that the president would sign it or perhaps allow the bill to become law without his signature."

Daschle noted that Bush had taken a similar tack while governor of Texas. After vetoing a state patients' bill of rights, he let a second measure become law without signing it.

The Democratic leader also indicated he was not enthusiastic about changing the bill to address White House concerns about excessive litigation, offering a cool response to a suggested cap on lawsuits filed in state courts.

"I don't know that I want to go any further than where we are, but I'm willing to look at all options at this point," he said on ABC. "Clearly, we've compromised on that issue. We've put caps at the federal level already into the law. We've come a long way in reaching some of the concerns that people have addressed, especially from the administration."

The bill, he said, "has to become law."





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