Rx DRUG BENEFIT: GOP Rift May Spell Doom in November
With the prescription drug benefit question towering over this year's election, a unified Democratic party has congressional Republicans "scrambling to catch up" on a key issue that could "erode their prospects for keeping control of Congress and winning the White House," the Washington Post reports. "We're not together," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott announced last week, lamenting, "We're all agreed something is going to be done in this area, something needs to be done. We cannot get together on how it's to be done." However, top lawmakers, citing time pressures, political "gamesmanship" and ideological differences, admit that passing a comprehensive drug benefit before Congress adjourns next month remains "virtually impossible." And according to one GOP strategist, failing to act on prescription drugs "could be a killer" for Republican candidates in tight races this fall. A recent poll conducted for House Republicans by Fabrizio-McLaughlin's David Winston showed that prescription drugs surpassed managed care as a voter concern by a wide margin. However, while most Republicans support a drug benefit package that relies on incentives for the private insurance market to cover pharmaceutical costs, the GOP has "a half dozen or more" plans floating around in both houses. Republican lawmakers also disagree on whether to address the issue in the remaining three weeks before the session ends or ride out the election storm by "defending what the House has already done or ... embracing a credible plan and then burying the opposition under a deluge of critical ads."
According to GOP strategists, the laud and lambast approach has succeeded in many races, including Sen. Spencer Abraham's (R-Mich.) close contest with rival Rep. Deborah Ann Stabenow (D-Mich.). Abraham joined Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and several others on a plan that would allow seniors to purchase pharmaceuticals at a 30% discount and launched a barrage of ads touting his proposal and attacking the Democratic plan backed by Stabenow -- leading to a bump in the polls. In New Mexico, Rep. Heather Wilson (R) employed a similar tactic, raising her lead among seniors from five points to 28 points (Dewar/Eilperin, 9/17).