JIM LEHRER: And to Shields and Gigot; our Friday night political analysis by syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. First, the patients' bill of rights. It seems to be stalled in the House, but maybe it isn't. What is going on and why, sir?
MARK SHIELDS: It is stalled in the House, Jim, and Republicans are pretty nervous about it right now because so nervous the leadership in the House, Republicans brought the president up to negotiate personally, to seek out some sort of a face-saving compromise. They've got a bill now that the president and the Republican leadership is backing that they argue is just a dime's worth of difference between the McCain-Edwards-Kennedy bill that passed the Senate.
JIM LEHRER: Lay out what the main separation is.
MARK SHIELDS: The main separation is that if you, I or Paul get sick somehow through the fault of any other entity, a doctor, a hospital, a pharmaceutical company, a bedpan manufacturer, we can sue them. We have that recourse. One does not have that recourse through an HMO, a health maintenance organization, the insurance company. That's really what it's about, whether in fact somebody who feels that they've been, or believes that they've been badly treated or given inadequate care by an HMO can sue them in court. And now they're down to, we can sue under state court. We're going to limit that. I mean in other words....
JIM LEHRER: It doesn't have to do with...both sides agree you can sue. The dispute is about the Republicans only want it in federal court...
MARK SHIELDS: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: ...and the Democrats want the option to do it in state court and federal court.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right.
PAUL GIGOT: Although there's also an independent review board that....
JIM LEHRER: Before you get to the courts.
PAUL GIGOT: Before you have a right of action, a review board that's independent of the HMO, so it wouldn't be just the HMO bosses; it would be somebody outside saying you were denied care, and if the patient didn't like their judgment, then you would be able to sue.
JIM LEHRER: Then the second issue is the cap on the amount of damages, whatever the lawsuit is and whatever... And where do matters stand? Is a compromise possible? Will they be able to pass something the president can sign?
PAUL GIGOT: I think the Republicans are five to ten short...votes short on their version.
JIM LEHRER: Their version is a lower cap and no state court.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, you would be able to, but make it more difficult to do that. So I think the problem here is that the bill that passed the Senate....
JIM LEHRER: Which is higher cap and both state court and federal court.
PAUL GIGOT: Right. Is a bill that-- the Democrats think they have Bush in a box in. They don't feel they need to move one inch, one millimeter because they think hey, look, if he signs our bill, this is fabulous for us. It's our bill. If he vetoes it, he is going to take a political hit. They're not moving at all. Charlie Norwood who they're negotiating with, Republican from Georgia, who...basically the Republicans are complaining he's not negotiating. He's an emissary from Tom Daschle and John Dingell, the House Democrat, just saying, you know, these are your talking points. Go over and tell them what you'll accept, which is not much.
JIM LEHRER: So do you read the politics the same way, Mark, that Paul does, that the Democrats say they haven't got anything to lose either way here?
MARK SHIELDS: I think the Democrats feel confident on this issue, Jim, but I think it is bigger than just the patients' bill of rights. I think this is a defining moment for the Bush administration and I think they're really concerned about it in the sense that since Jim Jeffords made the switch and that was the seminal moment of the political year 2001 and gave the Democrats the majority, there was no mandate in the election of 2000.
I think we all agree on that. President Bush came in with 500,000 fewer popular votes. The agenda is set by the legislative calendar. Once the Democrats took over the Senate, Tom Daschle started setting the legislative agenda. He sent over the patients' bill of rights. The Republicans in the White House didn't want the patients' bill of rights. He is going to send over the minimum wage; he's going to send over prescription drugs coverage. And so the Republicans....
JIM LEHRER: The fact that they're even talking about patients' bill of rights now is because of Jeffords and Daschle.
MARK SHIELDS: That's exactly right. I think what they're facing, they're playing defense, and all of a sudden what has happened is 221 Republicans are up next year in the House. And 20 Republican Senators are up in the Senate next year. That might seem like a long time away but it is less than a year to the campaign. And, Jim, every first term election of a president, mid-term election, is a referendum on that president's record. And right now the president's record looks to be very much in jeopardy and recall that Ronald Reagan in 1982 lost 26 House seats. Jimmy Carter in 1978 lost 15 of his own party. And Bill Clinton lost 53. Republicans now are getting a little bit nervous.
PAUL GIGOT: I disagree it is a precedent for other issues, because in many ways it's a unique issue. This is a unique issue, an issue that passed the House by 80 votes last year. This is not some issue that just came up this year and Tom Daschle decided, oh, I'll just make it up and put it on the agenda.
There are a lot of Republicans who have been on record on this in the past well before George Bush ever became president. It is very, very difficult to take back your votes on these things or go the other way. And I said I guess you're swimming upstream. The Republicans said we're swimming up a waterfall because they're all on record. So I don't think this is the same as prescription drugs or the same as a lot of the other issues.
JIM LEHRER: Moving on from patients' bill of rights, specifically to the general issue that Mark raised, Paul, which is things have changed since Jeffords. Do you agree, and is this a symptom of that, even the fact that we're talking about it?
PAUL GIGOT: Sure it is. And there is a battle for agenda setting. It is not as if Tom Daschle has the field to himself. President Bush doesn't have the field to himself. When President Bush is going to set the agenda on some things, try to get trade authority, for example, trade promotion authority, that is going to be an issue that divides some of the Democrats. So they're going to be competing for that title.
JIM LEHRER: Is the competition mean and vicious or friendly and spirited?
PAUL GIGOT: Friendly and spirited...I'd say it's certainly spirited. I would say...
JIM LEHRER: If you want to, put some other words in there if you don't like mine.
PAUL GIGOT: I wouldn't say friendly. I think Tom Daschle has been a very, very aggressive majority leader. I think partisan. That's not necessarily a bad thing to say. I don't mind, you know, I don't think....
JIM LEHRER: That's not a derogatory term?
PAUL GIGOT: But he has; he has been very tough. He has taken on Bush at every opportunity, he has taken the education bill. He's deep-sixed it. It's back now in some chamber of the Capitol. They'll take it out of conference. It passed the Senate and the House. But when he feels like it. That's a Bush priority. Faith-based initiative passed last week and Daschle said we'll get to it sometime this Congress. Trade promotion authority, probably dead for this year, not up for this year. So he is really...he is going against Bush every opportunity he has.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?
MARK SHIELDS: I mean, Tom Daschle has his own agenda as Senate leader. I disagree strenuously with Paul that this is not a defining moment. This is, Jim, what happened to the Republican House leadership cannot be ignored. They lost a rule in the House floor on campaign finance. That happened to the Democrats in 1994, August of 1994 on the crime bill. Once that happens, the first step is the criticism starts in the press. Denny Hastert isn't a strong leader, Tom Foley isn't a strong leader; that's the small part of it.
Internally, the strife really hits. The fault lines appear. The hawks in every caucus say look, if those guys hadn't left us on the vote, we could have shown retribution against them. That's going on in the Republican caucus, Dick Armey, Tom DeLay, Majority Leader and Whip, and J.C. Watts is saying we've got to take retribution against these 19 who took a walk on us.
Now, these are people who are going to have to run for reelection next year. I don't care who the member is. You have a choice, you can say, look they're trying to beat me over the head and make me tow the line. I have a choice. I can follow my constituency and my conscience and stand up to the political bosses in Washington, or I can just be a rubber stamp to politicians in the back room.
JIM LEHRER: That's a hard question.
MARK SHIELDS: A tough one. It really is. I'll tell you -- that's what's going on right now. It happened to the Democrats in 1994 and then it becomes every man for himself. You're saying George Bush isn't going to get a record through that I can run on next year, just as Bill Clinton wasn't going to get a record through that could be run on by a Democrat. Then you have to establish your own...
PAUL GIGOT: The education bill if he gets it, trade authority, probably something on Medicare prescription drugs.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, but has he got the votes on either one?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, but education has already passed the House and the Senate. If Daschle lets it to the floor...
JIM LEHRER: Explain the politics of this trucking bill. Mexican truck restrictions, the Democrats want tough restrictions on the trucks, the president and the Republicans do not because they say it is part of NAFTA. They're not...the trucks from Canada don't have as strict restrictions as they want to put on Mexico. What is going on there?
PAUL GIGOT: Mexican truckers don't vote in American elections and Teamsters do.
JIM LEHRER: That simple?
PAUL GIGOT: This is Teamsters, Teamsters, Teamsters.
JIM LEHRER: Is that right?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't think....
PAUL GIGOT: They're putting a lot of pressure.
MARK SHIELDS: I don't think there are 70 Teamsters votes in the Senate. I think this is a question of truck safety. The Republicans are on the wrong side of it bluntly. The day of the vote in the Senate when the 70 Senators stood up and voted against the president on this and insisted that there be inspection of trucks and not exhausted drivers behind the wheel. I mean the fatigue factor is a very important element in truck safety.
JIM LEHRER: But why should they be different for Mexico than they are for Canada?
MARK SHIELDS: One out of seven Canadians, according to the Department of Transportation survey, one out of seven Canadian trucks fails the safety test, two out of five Mexican trucks do. It's a question of just not the same standards.
PAUL GIGOT: They would have to meet the standards under the Phil Gramm-John McCain - John McCain - version of this. There's no question -- it is not as if they would be able to drive in the United States without having to pass inspection - American standards. This is an abrogation of the NAFTA treaty, pure and simple, and it's doing it for one party of the treaty, Mexico, not for Canada. Tom Daschle attacked the president for being unilateralist, isolationist. Here he is leading the charge against a treaty partner and Mexico is saying, look, if you do this, we may have to retaliate against your agricultural products. I wonder how Tom Harkin of Iowa feels about that.
JIM LEHRER: This thing has many tentacles, and we have to leave it there. Thank you both very much.