GOP DRUG BENEFIT: House Gets Tips on ‘Selling’ Plan
House Republicans got "pointers" last week from a public relations firm on "how to improve their image with voters" and sell their plan for a Medicare prescription drug benefit. According to documents obtained by CongressDaily, Glen Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies offered the lawmakers a list of "phrases that work" and suggested "messages to attack Democrats." Bolger also emphasized the importance of passing prescription drug legislation, calling it a "political imperative." Noting that Democrats hope to use the issue to win back the House in November, he added that they also have an advantage over the GOP by holding the public's perception as the "best party to handle the issue." He pointed to a recent poll in which 73% of voters cited prescription drug help for seniors as the "most important/very important" factor in deciding who to vote for in the presidential election. The briefing paper said, "It is imperative that Republicans hang together on this issue and pass a bill." Bolger also urged House GOP members to "show they care about the issue" and to portray Democrats as trying to "put politicians and Washington bureaucrats in control" with their "one-size-fits-all [drug] plan." But the GOP drew fire from White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart who charged the lawmakers with viewing the senior drug problem "as a political problem rather than a policy problem." He said, "[House Republicans] don't really believe in the idea of a prescription drug benefit for Medicare beneficiaries, but they also don't really look forward to losing their jobs in (November)" (6/12).
The administration continues to oppose the "cornerstone of the Republican plan" -- offering managed care companies assistance in providing a drug benefit -- and is pushing for a benefit that operates through Medicare's fee-for-service option, making it "affordable and available to all." Although the GOP plan has not yet been revealed, it will reportedly include an option for drug purchasing assistance through traditional Medicare, but only for those living in areas where private insurers do not offer a drug benefit. The White House will release a study today showing that rural seniors will be hardest hit by the Republican plan. These seniors, who have lower incomes and less access to pharmacies, "are just the sort likely to be disadvantaged by the GOP plan," the report claims. Although a witness list for today's House Ways and Means Committee hearing has not been released, sponsors of the drug bills and various representatives from the drug, insurance and HMO industries likely will testify. But some lawmakers are concerned that seniors have not been included. In a letter to Ways and Means Chair Bill Archer (R-Texas), Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), the committee's ranking member, urged Archer to invite seniors to testify, adding that the hearing "must be broadened to represent other important views." Rep. Thomas Allen (D-Maine) also expressed concern, saying, "I agree it would be appropriate for seniors to testify. The magnitude of this problem is not fully grasped by all members of Congress." Details of the GOP drug plan will be released today, after it is formally introduced in Congress (Koffler/Fulton, CongressDaily/A.M., 6/13).