MIAMI – Looking to advance his re-election bid on two fronts, President Bush (search) on Monday sought seniors' votes by promoting his role in Medicare prescription drug legislation and wrapped up the fund-raising swing of his campaign's initial $30 million cash-collection drive.
Adding subsidies for prescription drugs to Medicare (search) has long been a demand of a powerful voting bloc, the millions of seniors enrolled in the government health insurance program.
The White House hopes to tie Bush to any success on the issue. He visited a senior center in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood to urge lawmakers to quickly reconcile the differences between Medicare bills passed last week by the House and Senate.
If Congress produces Medicare legislation for Bush to sign, it would likely become a prominent feature of his re-election campaign, and remove a potent weapon from the Democrats' election-season arsenal.
"The Medicare system of today does not have prescription drug benefits, as you know. We got to change that," Bush said. "We just got to get the job done now. We got to make sure that the bills are reconciled and get them to my desk."
Bush's Medicare event was added to an already busy day of 2004 campaign fund raising in Florida. He appeared at a $2,000-a-plate luncheon at a Miami airport hotel and then headed to a more upscale — though priced the same — dinner across the state at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay.
For his talk on Medicare, Bush chose the Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Center, with a mostly Spanish-speaking audience that could understand little of his remarks, save the bits of Spanish he sprinkled in at the beginning. The White House promised a translation later.
The center's former president and a founder, Cuban-born Josefina Carbonell, is the administration's assistant secretary for aging at the Department of Health and Human Services (search).
Bush described meeting Myrtle Ball earlier in the day, saying she was an example of someone who would benefit. Bush said Ball, of Miami, spends $700 a month — about half her income — for diabetes medications. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation calculator, Ball would still pay about $4,400 a year out-of-pocket under the Senate bill and $3,920 annually under the House version.
Bush made no demands of House and Senate negotiators other than to insist the final product incorporate choice and reform into the 38-year-old Medicare program. Instead, his main focus was on speed.
At his lunchtime fund-raising appearance, Bush's was greeted with cheers of "Four more years!"
"We've raised a lot of money," he said, "and I want to thank you for that."
Bush also threw in critical references at each stop to Fidel Castro's regime in Cuba. "Under the current leadership in Cuba, there will never be freedom," he said in Little Havana. "We believe freedom is the future of every country. We believe in a free Cuba."
Spokeswoman Nicolle Devenish said the president was scooping up $1.8 million in donations in Miami and another $1.2 million in checks in Tampa.
That would bring Bush's haul to about $17 million over seven events in less than two weeks. First lady Laura Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have added more from another seven fund-raisers — including $500,000 from Cheney's appearance Monday in Grand Rapids, Mich. Cheney was headlining a second event later Monday in Akron, Ohio.
Adding proceeds from direct mail and the Internet since the Bush campaign's launch six weeks ago, officials projected the total raised through Monday would be nearly $30 million.
The latest three-month reporting period for federal campaigns wraps up Monday. The totals in those reports, to be released in mid-July, are closely scrutinized and Bush's will show him far outpacing all the Democratic rivals.
The trip was Bush's 15th to Florida as president — his most-visited state behind Pennsylvania, another coveted presidential election prize. Florida, where Bush's brother, Jeb, is governor, was the site of the postelection drama in 2000 that only ended with the Supreme Court decision that handed the White House to Bush.
Jeb Bush accompanied his brother at every stop — eliciting the president's usual jokes about their strong-willed mother, former first lady Barbara Bush.
"We both share the same political consultant: our mother. Her fees are low, but her opinion is plentiful," President Bush said, to laughter.
Bush's day began in Texas, where he spent the weekend in seclusion at his ranch after a long day of fund raising in California on Friday.