Trent Lott says his first full week as Senate majority leader could include a deal on health insurance, and he indicated he had made what could be a major concession on the minimum wage.
In his Sunday news debut following his election to succeed Bob Dole, Lott, R-Miss., sought to dispel the impression that the Senate under his leadership would be a more conservative and confrontational place.He said on CBS's "Face the Nation" that he hoped to work with President Clinton to resolve remaining differences on health insurance legislation. "He is the president of the United States. I am the majority leader of the Senate. We need to be working together for the good of the country," Lott said.
A bill to ensure that workers can carry health insurance from one job to another and won't be penalized for pre-existing conditions has been held up at the House-Senate conference level over a provision by House Republicans to create medical savings accounts.
The tax-free savings would be used to pay for routine medical bills for people who also buy catastrophic health insurance. Clinton and other opponents contend the program would siphon off healthy, affluent people from regular health insurance, increasing coverage costs for the ill and the poor.
"I think we are very close" to a compromise, Lott said, adding that negotiations have been slowed by new administration demands and the resistance of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., a co-author of the overall bill with Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan.
"Senator Kennedy wants it just the way he wants it," Lott said.
But he said "the iron is hot. If we get it done this week it will happen, if we don't it may never happen."
Lott also said, without providing details, that he had given Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota a new proposal for breaking the deadlock over the minimum wage.
The House has passed legislation that would raise the current $4.25-an-hour minimum by 90 cents, but Senate action has been stalled by Democratic objections to the measure being tied to a bill that would allow employers and workers to form groups to discuss quality, efficiency and safety issues.
The legislation is bitterly opposed by unions, which claim it would be used to undermine the collective bargaining system and discourage organizing.
The minimum wage increase "is a big Mack truck sitting in the road blocking things we need to do for the good of our country," Lott said. "I'd like to find a way to move that truck down the road or set it on a side track while we continue to work and get things done that need to be done."