Rx DRUG COSTS: Dems Beating the Drum in Key House Races
In their battle to gain control of Congress, Democrats, only seven seats short of a House majority, have zeroed in on rising prescription drug costs, hoping to ride the popular issue to Washington this fall, the Wall Street Journal reports. Democratic leaders have targeted a dozen key races and plan to spend about $1 million on issue ads in each of those districts. Almost every Democratic candidate has made prescription drug coverage a "paramount" theme in their campaign, often under the orders of House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.). According to the party's polls, Americans, especially seniors, consider skyrocketing prescription drug costs an important issue in this year's election and also believe that Democrats can best tackle the problem.
While President Clinton's universal health care plan hurt Democrats in 1994 when they lost control of the House, health care issues, such as the prescription drug benefit quandary and HMO reform, favor the party this year. "The world has changed. [Republicans] have huge problems and deservedly so," Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) said, adding, "They are having an appalling time defending the indefensible ... they have only two real allies: HMOs and pharmaceutical companies." In Indiana's 8th District, for example, Gephardt has enlisted Dr. Paul Perry (D) to "exploit" public concern over health care, using the prescription drug issue to turn up the heat on GOP incumbent Rep. John Hostettler. And in Kentucky, the AFL-CIO and other groups have trumpeted former Democratic Rep. Scotty Baesler's support for the Democratic prescription drug plan in an effort to unseat Republican Rep. Ernie Fletcher. "I think the landscape has changed completely. The drug issue appears ... to be a compelling issue across the country," Health Insurance Association of America President Chip Kahn said.
Mayhem in Michigan
In Michigan, the pivotal 8th District has become a battleground over the prescription drug quagmire, Democratic candidate Dianne Byrum explained. "[P]rescription drugs are the issue of this campaign," she said. The issue has drawn a plethora of outside money and firepower into the race. On two occasions, Gephardt visited the district to campaign with Byrum, and both the Health Benefits Coalition and Citizens for Better Medicare, groups opposed to the Democratic prescription drug benefit and HMO reform proposals, have launched advertising campaigns aimed at defeating her. However, Byrum's rival, state Sen. Mike Rogers (R), argued that the prescription drug issue alone would not win her the election. "The only issue my opponent talks about is prescription drugs, prescription drugs, prescription drugs, prescription drugs. But I don't think you can win an election just by saying you'll give people prescription drugs," he said. Still, Rogers has attempted to build a record on the issue, co- sponsoring legislation in the Michigan Senate that would earmark tobacco settlement funds for prescription drug coverage. He also sent an open letter to Clinton, urging a bipartisan compromise on the issue before the election (VandeHei/Rogers, 8/11).