Nevada's Republicans Praise Bush; Dems Have Questions

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Nevada's representatives in Congress praised President Bush for his election-year pledge to focus on pushing down health-care costs, but Democrats questioned his commitment to funding health care and other social programs.

"The president spoke a great deal tonight about the well-being of the American public. But I am concerned that the budget he will propose in a few weeks will include deep cuts to education, health care and employment programs," Sen. Harry Reid, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said in a statement Tuesday after Bush delivered his annual State of the Union address.

Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., and other Republicans welcomed Bush's renewed call to eliminate frivolous medical lawsuits. An audit this month found that medical malpractice claims have soared in Nevada since a panel that reviewed patient complaints was abolished in 2002.

"We have had a serious, serious challenge at home, with our massive growth in southern Nevada, with health-care and liability costs. It's a serious, serious problem. We're losing our doctors," Porter said.

"The fact that he's talking about making health care more affordable and finding ways to help all the uninsured I think really impacts Nevada," Porter said.

Bush urged Congress to "act to address rapidly rising health-care costs," including by allowing small businesses to band together to negotiate lower insurance rates and giving lower-income residents a refundable tax credit to buy basic health insurance.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said she didn't think Bush's proposals would solve the nation's and the state's health-care problems.

"There's nothing in any of his proposals that shows me that he understands that health-care spending is out of control, that we're losing doctors right and left, that the hospitals aren't getting adequately compensated and that we provided a whole lot of temporary fixes in the legislation that we passed," she said.

Bush also said that "we must eliminate wasteful and frivolous medical lawsuits" - the third year in a row that Bush has issued such a call to a Congress that has not passed new medical malpractice laws.

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said he hopes such reform comes this year.

Ensign and Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., praised Bush's call to make tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 permanent.

"I think it's widely agreed that the tax cuts helped stimulate the economy, and we have more work to do there, but we're definitely in a recovery that appears to be quite strong," Ensign said.

"There are hundreds of thousands of Nevadans who are affected by the child-tax credit, they're affected by the estate tax and they're affected by all of the taxes that affect individuals and small businesses, and so the president's proposal to make them permanent benefits hundreds of thousands of working Nevadans," Gibbons said.

But Ensign, a deficit hawk who voted against Bush's $400 billion Medicare bill and other measures on the grounds they cost too much, said he was concerned Bush was condoning overspending by Congress.

"The president is too much, I think, going along with the spending in the Congress instead of standing up and trying to fight it," Ensign said.

Bush focused the first part of his hour-long speech on foreign policy and national security, contending that the capture of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has made the world "a better and safer place." But he cautioned that more needs to be done.

In a reminder of the dangers that still threaten the country, Reid watched the address from a "secure, undisclosed location" along with three other congressional leaders. The precaution, which officials said was not taken in response to any specific threat, was instituted after Sept. 11, 2001, to make sure there are some lawmakers away from the Capitol in case of terrorist attack.