Sunday, September 17, 2000

Democrat Lucas wages lonely fight

Representative pushes for passage of tax, drug bills

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Anxious to prove his independence to election-year voters, Democratic U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas has blasted both major parties for gridlock he says is stalling enactment of two important issues: eliminating the marriage tax penalty and enacting a prescription drug benefit plan for Medicare recipients.

        Mr. Lucas, of Boone County, is running for a second term in Northern Ken tucky's 4th Congressional District. He said Congress and the Clinton administration need to come together on those issues now.

        “We simply can't afford to allow the obstructionists to get away with the partisan politics of gridlock and grandstanding,” Mr. Lucas said.

        Mr. Lucas voted last week to override President Clinton's veto of the Marriage Penalty Relief Act, but supporters of the bill fell short of the two-thirds majority necessary for a veto override. The bill would have given many married couples a larger tax deduction than they are now allowed to claim.

        Mr. Lucas also chided the Republican majority for preventing “a real prescription relief plan” from getting to the floor for a vote. The drug benefit issue likely won't be taken up by Congress this year, though it has become a major issue in the presidential race between Democrat Al Gore and Re publican George W. Bush.

        Though he is the only Democrat in Kentucky's eight-member congressional delegation, Mr. Lucas often votes with Republicans and has not openly supported Mr. Clinton or Mr. Gore. Mr. Lucas even made national news in August by refusing to attend the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, staying home, he said, to avoid voting for Mr. Gore as the party's


        But that posture has left him without a base of support in Congress, said Eric Deters, campaign manager for Don Bell, the Oldham County Republican challenging Mr. Lucas.

        “Ken Lucas is a man without a party in Washington,” Mr. Deters said Friday.

        “How can he be effective? He stays away from his own party, so they don't want him. And he tries to vote like a Republican, but they don't want him because he's a Democrat.

        “He's out in the cold.”

        But Mr. Lucas is valuable in Congress because he puts progress ahead of partisan politics, said John Lapp, Mr. Lucas' chief of staff in Washington.

        Mr. Lapp pointed to Mr. Lucas' co-sponsorship of the Health Coverage, Access, Relief and Equity Act, or CARE Act. The bill offers low- and middle-income families refundable tax credits when they purchase health insurance.

        The bill, designed to help about half of the nation's 44 million uninsured residents, has bipartisan support from House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas and California Democrat Cal Dooley, founder and co-chairman of the centrist House New Democratic Coalition.

        Yet Green Party candidate Ken Sain of Covington said the bill does not go far enough.

        “What about the other 23.5 million?” Mr. Sain asked, referring to the estimated number of Americans without health insurance who won't be covered by the CARE Act.

        “And why only tax credits? This is nothing more than election-year, feel-good politics. Mr. Lucas' bill would only get the job half done, and it's still not done right.”

        Mr. Sain supports universal health care coverage for all Americans.


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