Barring the greatest comeback since Lazarus, health-care reform is dead for the year, Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, said Friday.
"If (Senate Majority Leader) George Mitchell were a chess player, he would reach onto the board and turn his king down, resigning, because he's playing a losing game," he said.Bennett, who is a negotiator for Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole with the various warring factions on health care, added for the first time, "I don't believe there will be a health-care bill passed this year."
He says that's because the two major Senate bills have been mortally wounded, no one can agree on another compromise, and time has virtually run out to get any bill in shape and passed.
"It's always possible," Bennett said. "And I will still work hard to get some type of a bill. But at the moment, I don't see the elements coming together."
For example, he said the Mitchell bill endorsed by President Clinton is opposed by too many key Democrats.
"The Mitchell bill is clearly dead," Bennett said. He added that the "final stake was driven in its heart" with a speech this week by powerful Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.V., who urged that it not be passed.
Bennett said Dole's alternative is also dead. "No Democrat is going to vote for a bill in this atmosphere that has the name of the Republican leader on it."
He said while Mitchell and Clinton have put hope in a group of moderate senators seeking compromise, "the train isn't moving. They do not have a bill. They do not have any legislative language," and he said they are likely weeks away from having any.
Bennett said he and a different bipartisan group, including Sens. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., and Pete Domenici, R-N.M., are also rewriting some barebones reform legislation - but are far from having it ready. Theirs is much less complicated than the so-called "mainstream group" bill.
In an election year, Bennett says he figures the Senate won't be in session long enough to iron out any bill - even though Mitchell has vowed to keep the Senate in session and skip any August recess until something passes.
He said Democrats talked about how the last time a leader kept the Senate in session during a hot election year. That decision prevented his party members from campaigning, and they lost control of the Senate. "Obviously, we Republicans are hoping history repeats itself this year," Bennett said.
"Ironically, the Republicans are more willing to stay than the Democrats. Because the Republicans feel safer in their seats than the Democrats and, of course, there are fewer of them (up for election). There are 12 Republicans and 22 Democrats," Bennett said.
If health care dies, Bennett predicts it will hurt Clinton and Democrats more than Republicans.
"Ever since we were attacked by the president as being the ones responsible for holding up health care and crime, the level of contributions voluntarily sent in . . . has gone up very markedly" to party committees and candidates, he said.