Rx DRUG BENEFIT: GOP ‘Taking a Beating,’ Changing Course
With the black cloud of prescription drugs looming over politicians this election year, leading Senate Republicans "changed course" yesterday, agreeing to try to pass legislation that would help cover medication costs for low-income seniors, the New York Times reports (Pear, 9/8). And some House GOP leaders, facing similar woes, said they may negotiate with President Clinton on his $250 billion prescription drug benefit proposal. According to most experts, however, the recent Republican policy shift -- an indication of "how frustrated and desperate they have become" -- will not guarantee prescription drug legislation this year. With Congress set to adjourn next month, Democrats are focused on "using the issue to win votes." On the campaign trail, Democrats have trumpeted prescription drugs in congressional races across the country, and GOP candidates have "tak[en] a beating" on the issue (Vandehei/Murray, Wall Street Journal, 9/8). In the Senate yesterday, Sen. William Roth (R-Del.) unveiled a pair of drug benefit proposals, smaller versions of the plan announced by Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) on Tuesday, that would provide federal funding to states for drug coverage programs (New York Times, 9/8). One bill Roth introduced would provide $20 billion over five years for seniors with incomes up to 150% of the poverty level, and the other would offer $31 billion for those with incomes up to 175% of the poverty level. Under congressional budget rules, the Senate would require 60 votes to pass the larger measure, but only 51 to approve the smaller plan ( AP/Baltimore Sun, 9/8). "This temporary legislation offers an assurance to low-income seniors that they will be able to receive the help they need while Congress completes the larger task of overhauling the Medicare program," Roth said (New York Times, 9/8). While Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) called Roth's plan "a possibility" in the House, Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) dismissed the proposal as "smoke and mirrors" (AP/Baltimore Sun, 9/8).
Democrats Still Going ...
While Republicans have reversed course on prescription drugs, Senate Democrats have vowed to continue their efforts to pass a comprehensive bill, CongressDaily reports. "This fight is going to be conducted at every opportunity for the remainder of the session," Graham said (Rovner, 9/7). Democrats, including Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), have chided the GOP's so-called "temporary" drug coverage plans, calling them "not workable." Although Republicans claim aid to states would begin immediately, Kennedy argued that many states, which do not have programs in place, would first have to pass new legislation. He also claimed that "relatively few" beneficiaries would receive coverage, and "even fewer would likely participate" (CongressDaily, 9/7). Other Democrats have challenged the GOP's commitment to passing a prescription drug benefit. "What has changed since the last vote," Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) chided, adding, "We now have a stack of speeches delivered in Philadelphia. Let's see whether those who talk about prescription drug benefits are willing to vote for them" (New York Times, 9/8).