Kennedy, Grassley Could Work Together on Rx Drug Benefit
Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) together might be "critical" figures in passing a Medicare prescription drug benefit, "one of this year's most contentious health issues," Albert Hunt writes in his Wall Street Journal column, "Politics & People." Although the two senators are "ideological opposite[s]", they have teamed up in the past. During the last congressional session, for example, they worked to "retain Medicaid benefits for disabled children," an effort that was blocked by Republican senators during the 106th Congress' last days. Hunt predicts that in this closely divided Congress, "bipartisan majorities" will form "from leading figures on the flanks -- a Kennedy or a Grassley." As for Kennedy, Hunt writes that "no major health care legislation has cleared Congress without [his] deep involvement." Furthermore, Kennedy "usually is flexible," if he thinks "he can get a good deal for his side." President Bush recognizes this, Hunt writes, and he has met or spoken with Kennedy a few times since Christmas. Kennedy also met last year with drug industry executives Ray Gilmartin of Merck and former Amgen Chair Gordon Binder to discuss a compromise on the drug benefit issue. Such a compromise could involve "both universal coverage and the decision to move funding out of the existing Medicare program and into a competitive market environment," Hunt writes.
Kennedy also would "insist" on federal subsidies "more generous and expansive" than the benefit House Republicans approved last year or the proposal by Sens. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and John Breaux (D-La.). Hunt notes that any "serious hope for expeditious action" on prescription drugs would have to be "less ambitious" than what Frist and Breaux are proposing -- to include a drug benefit as part of an overall Medicare reform effort. As for Grassley, he has not "honed in on any prescription drug specifics yet," but said, "If Ted Kennedy is serious about getting legislation passed, it's very possible that he and I could work together on this" (Hunt, Wall Street Journal, 1/25).