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BRIT HUME, HOST: President Bush and other administration officials have been twisting arms trying to find a compromise on a patients' bill of rights they can support. A crucial vote is set for some time next week in the House on a measure the White House opposes.

Joining me now for more is the secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson.

Good morning and welcome, sir.


HUME: Let me just ask you, first of all, is a patients' bill of rights necessary?

THOMPSON: Yes, it is. And the president wants to sign one, he wants to sign a good bill. And there are 34 states that have already enacted some kind of patients' bill of rights.

HUME: Well, let me just stop you right there, if I can. Is Wisconsin, where you were governor, one of them?

THOMPSON: Absolutely, and so was Texas, where...

HUME: And you were for it?

THOMPSON: Absolutely. We signed a very good bill, as did President Bush in Texas, and that's what the president wants to do. He had to veto a bad bill the first time in order to get a good bill in Texas. And he wants one that's going to be uniform, he wants one that is going to cover patients and be able to make sure they get the proper medical care and have the opportunity to have their decisions, if it goes against a patient, arbitrated and, if necessary, go into court.

HUME: Now, you mentioned that he had vetoed a bill in Texas. He has threatened to veto the Senate version of the bill. If what comes out of the House and ultimately to his desk is something that you so far have described as unacceptable, is the veto threat still good?

THOMPSON: Absolutely. The president has been very clear on that. He said he wants a good bill, and he will not accept a bad bill that is going to increase the amount of litigation and probably -- and this is something that I personally am very concerned about, and I know it will happen -- will increase the number of people that will be uninsured.

We have 43 million people that are uninsured currently in the United States. Why increase that, you know, when you can pass a bill that everybody agrees 90 percent with and pass a bill that the president can sign?

HUME: Let's talk about a bill the president can sign for a moment.


HUME: The president and the White House are backing a measure introduced by Congressman Ernie Fletcher. The president doesn't like the measure so far that Congressman Charlie Norwood and others are supporting. First of all, where are you on votes for the Fletcher alternative?

THOMPSON: We're very close.

HUME: How close?

THOMPSON: I would say we're within a half a dozen.

HUME: Half a dozen?

THOMPSON: Half a dozen, six to 10.

HUME: And what about getting Charlie Norwood and company to so revise their measure that you might be able to support that? Is that going anywhere?

THOMPSON: Sure, we're negotiating with the individuals on the other side. We're hoping to come together. And, you know, that's the problem, Brit, that I can't understand and can't fathom, is that both bills, 90 percent of the bills everybody can accept. Why not get a bill that the president can sign and can become law and get this issue behind us? Ninety percent is a pretty good thing in Washington.

HUME: Well, what's dividing you, of course, is the extent of litigation, where and for how much.

THOMPSON: That is correct.

HUME: Now, if everything's 90 percent acceptable, you could apply the same logic to the president. Why couldn't he just go ahead and sign it?

THOMPSON: Because the president has set out his principles. The president has compromised already. And he said, listen, I want a good patients' bill of rights, one that's comprehensive, one that's going to protect patients and give them the proper health care that they need, and give them the opportunity to appeal. But I don't want to turn it over to more litigation, drive up the costs of insurance, and probably, more than likely, have people and companies stop insuring people.

We have 43 million people that are uninsured in America. What's the logic of having more people uninsured in America? And that's what the ultimate conclusion of both sides, there will be more people uninsured if the proposal goes through the way it is.

HUME: Now, if you're within a half dozen or so votes of passing the alternative that you like, are you now beginning to see signs that Congressman Norwood and his colleagues will be prepared to make adjustments in their version of the bill, or is that a lost cause?

THOMPSON: No, I don't think so. I think, you know, the negotiations are continuing over the weekend and will continue tomorrow, and hopefully we'll be able to reach an agreement. I really think that's the best approach.

And hopefully Congressman Norwood -- you know, he's a wonderful individual, and we're hoping that they can move somewhere towards the president so the president can say, yes, this is acceptable.

HUME: And if you were able to get language acceptable to you worked into the Norwood version of the bill, would the Fletcher version of the bill simply go away?

THOMPSON: Well, the Fletcher bill will more than likely be dove- tailed into the Norwood bill, the Norwood-Ganske-Dingell bill. And that's what we're hoping. We're hoping to be able to reach a compromise on both bills.

HUME: Now, for the benefit of people who may not know what's in these two versions of the bill, Fletcher allows for an appeal process to go forward only at the end of which there would be litigation with the amount of a settlements capped in state or federal court, correct?

THOMPSON: That is correct.

HUME: Whereas in the Dingell bill the appeal process is shorter, resort to litigation can come sooner and no caps, right?

THOMPSON: The appeal process isn't shorter, it just allows them to go into court a lot sooner. They can go into court for just about any reason whatsoever. And that's going to drive up the cost and it's also going to increase litigation. And I think it's going to restrict the expediency of getting a decision done.

HUME: Now, you say you're within a half dozen votes. Let me just ask you, the vote will be on what day?

THOMPSON: We're not sure. The speaker hasn't finally determined, but it's more than likely going to be sometime this week, Brit.

HUME: All right, let me turn to...

THOMPSON: Probably Thursday, I would hope.

HUME: Let me turn to couple of other issues. On this issue of cloning, the White House favors a ban on cloning. There are two measures before Congress now in the House of Representatives, the Weldon version, the Greenwood version. Which version is the administration supporting?

THOMPSON: The president likes the Weldon version.

HUME: And the reason he likes that version over the Greenwood version is what?

THOMPSON: Well, basically because it prevents cloning, and the president's come out very strongly against it.

HUME: Well, the Greenwood forces say that they would permit it only for purposes of medical research, not for the creation of human beings. Is that unacceptable to the president?

THOMPSON: We think that's a slippery slope, Brit. We think once you start down that slope it's -- where do you end, where do you draw the line? We feel that it's much better to say, no, we're not in favor of cloning and stop it right up front.

HUME: Critics of that measure have said that what this does is, it enshrines in law the creation for medical research of stem cells, embryonic stem cells. Is that part of the administration's problem with it?

THOMPSON: Well, no. The president is going to make a decision on stem cells, but cloning is a completely different subject. And the president has come out very clearly and very distinctly opposed to cloning. And he is still going to make up his decision on embryonic stem cell research.

HUME: Now, we've had this controversy involved with Johns Hopkins University and the test trials, the patient trials, that were going on there. The result was several days during which the trials were completely shut down, and people were without medication that many of them had come to depend upon. Recognizing, the administration, that there'd been a death in a clinical trial there that had triggered the process. But if you had that to do over again, would you do it differently, Mr. Secretary?

THOMPSON: No, I really wouldn't. The science is there, the rules are there. And there were some mistakes that were made; both sides agreed to that. And now we're going to set up a different kind of procedure that's going to be better and make sure that we don't have these kinds of problems in the future.

You know, these experiments have got to be set up so people are safe. And there's a person that died, and there has to be some consequences. We have to make sure that the people that go into these protocols, that they're going to be protected, their health is going to be insured. And that's what's going to take place.

And I think out of this, Johns Hopkins is going to be stronger and better. It's a wonderful hospital. And I think the department is just trying to ensure that the patients' health are protected. That's our primary objective.

HUME: There have been calls for the resignation of the head of the Centers for Disease and Control, the argument being that this whole program on -- for birth control or for the use of condoms...

THOMPSON: Condoms.

HUME: ... to prevent disease has been a failure. What's your view of that matter?

THOMPSON: I think that's absolutely incorrect. The Centers for Disease Control does a wonderful job for America. You know, they're doing an excellent job of protecting our health.

HUME: But what about that particular program, Secretary?

THOMPSON: I think the condom thing is blown way out of proportion. And I think the Centers for Disease Control, they're doing tremendous scientific experiments, and I think they should be allowed to continue. I don't see where -- I don't think that there's as big an issue here as a lot of people are trying to portray.

HUME: Secretary Tommy Thompson, thanks for coming in. Nice to have you.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Brit. It's always a pleasure.

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