On the same day that President Bush told a Las Vegas audience that things were “getting better” for the United States in Iraq, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist hedged that bet after a Memphis speech Tuesday night, responding, “No, it’s as bad as it looks,” when asked if there was “light at the end of the tunnel” in Iraq. Otherwise, Frist , just concluding two weeks of intense labor in Washington, offered a relatively rosy scenario at an installment of the Chamber of Commerce "Frontline Politics 101" series at the Park Vista Hotel-- particularly concerning the final passage early Tuesday of what Frist described as a “bipartisan” Medicare reform bill. “This bill was seven years in the making,” Tennessean Frist, the Senate's only physician, said of an administration-backed prescription-drug measure which he said had a “one in a thousand” chance just eight months ago. Frist praised Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, who fought passage of the legislation, as “a great friend” for whom the GOP majority leader said he had “a great deal of respect. But Frist added, “I won, by the way.” Frist described the enacted measure, which includes subsidies to drug ompanies that extend prescription benefits to seniors, as superior to the more “bureaucratic, big-government, more costly” version favored by Kennedy and other Democrats. He said the Medicare bill had succeeded in three aims. “It was bipartisan, it is voluntary, and it will transform Medicare.” Two other efforts supported by Frist had been forestalled, he acknowledged. One was the administration’s energy bill, which was successfully filibustered by Senate Democrats after the administration failed to expunge a provision from the Repubican-approved House version that would shield oil companies from litigation for water contamination by the gasoline additive MTBE. Another rebuff came in the form of a Democratic filibuster against consideration of an array of the administration’s federal judicial nominees. Frist conceded that his decision to keep the Senate in session for a grueling overnight session two weeks ago had been unlikely to break the logjam but said he had thought it important to make a “symbolic” point to the nation about the “frustrating” and unprecedented filibuster.


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