Sunday, December 25, 2005

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads

Christmas came a few days early for Minnessota beet growers:

As they prepared to send the spending cuts to the floor, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and his Republican lieutenants realized they were headed for defeat unless they nailed down one more vote. And to get that, Frist had to meet the asking price of one of two Republican senators, Norm Coleman of Minnesota or Gordon Smith of Oregon.

Smith vowed not to support the bill unless it was changed so that proposed savings on Medicaid, the federal health-care program for the poor, were achieved at the expense of drug companies and other providers instead of coming in the form of lower benefits for Medicaid recipients.

Coleman's price for supporting the package was removing from the bill a provision that would have eliminated $30 million in subsidies for sugar-beet growers, many of them in his home state.

In the end, sugar farmers got to keep their subsidy, and Frist got Coleman's vote. With the Minnesota lawmaker on board, the bill passed: 50 senators in favor, 50 against, and Vice President Dick Cheney cast the tiebreaking yes vote, as is his prerogative as president pro tempore of the Senate.

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