US Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle

Excerpts from a Monitor breakfast on the Medicare bill.

In his new book "Like No Other Time," Tom Daschle says he grew up shy in Aberdeen, South Dakota. He graduated from South Dakota State University in 1969, then served three years in the Air Force studying satellite surveillance photos.

Daschle came to Washington as an aide to Sen. James Abourezk, a position he held for five years. Sen. Daschle was elected to the US House in 1978 with an 110-vote margin. He won a seat in the Senate in 1986 - becoming the 1,776th senator in US history. He was elected Senate Democratic leader in 1994.

Here are excerpts from his remarks:

On whether Congress will have to revise Medicare legislation again next year:

"I guarantee we are going to be back within 12 months doing something. I don't think that the current plan - even though it does not largely kick in until 2006 - is sustainable politically. My own experience in South Dakota and around the country bears this out.

"Keep in mind they are going to be spending $4,000 [in premiums] for $5,000 in benefits. They are going to be paying a premium during a coverage gap that lasts $2,800. They are still going to be paying a premium while they get absolutely no benefit from the program. Figure that out. When that happens I just can't imagine Congress can sustain the political pressure they will be under not to change it."

On why experts say the government budget process is out of control:

"The CBO (Congressional Budget Office) called the current budget trends unsustainable if you will recall just a couple of months ago and I think that is a proper characterization....

"What has happened? Well, two things. Republicans gained control of the White House and the Congress and secondly they have passed an irresponsible fiscal policy starting with tax cuts and now loaded with giveaways. Every single bill that passes is loaded with payouts to the special interests. We saw that with the energy bill, we have seen it now with the Medicare bill, we are seeing it with the omnibus (spending) legislation. You name it, there are huge handouts for a lot of the special interests."

On the Bush administration's handling of war in Iraq:

"There is no plan. It is really remarkable. We are mired there. Even the Secretary of Defense a month ago, if you will recall, complained bitterly about the lack of planning, the lack of a yardstick by which to measure success, the lack of progress. It is a debacle and I think that the administration is struggling to find a way out of this quagmire.

"I think the most important thing is to involve the international community a lot more effectively.... I do think we need more troops but I don't think they ought to necessarily be American troops. I think there ought to be UN, NATO, international community forces that could augment - not necessarily even supplant - but augment the US presence there today."

On the performance of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist:

"I enjoy working with Senator Frist.... I enjoy my working relationship with Senator Frist. I give him credit for having to deal with an unusual set of circumstances in a Congress that is so equally divided. He was thrown into this. He didn't ask for it. I think under the circumstances he has performed well. This is a difficult job. I know, I had it myself and would love to have it back, even as difficult as it is. When you've got a 51/49 margin it is really very, very hard. I think that under the circumstances he has handled it well."

On why he is running for re-election:

"I am running because in spite of all the frustration and all of the work involved, I still very honored and gratified to have the opportunity I do.... I was hoping to be a political quarterback. I am mostly a defensive lineman these days. But I am still able to do good for others. There is a powerful level of satisfaction and fulfillment that comes from your ability to help others even if it is in smaller ways than you would like."

On whether Iraq is in danger of turning into another Vietnam for the United States:

"I think it is too early to come to any conclusion about whether the experience in Iraq could reach the magnitude of the extraordinarily negative experience for our country in Vietnam. I would not make that argument today. I do believe we need to do a lot more to avoid that prospect than we are today.... I think we need to be careful about making that kind of an association at this point. Are we in trouble? Yes. Should we be making different policy choices? Yes.... I don't want to see an exit strategy until we have seen a success strategy. What I want to see is far more involvement on the part of the international community and far more reason to be optimistic about our success than I have a right to be today."

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