Rx DRUG COSTS: House Narrowly Approves GOP Bill
Despite a day of stalling by frustrated House Democrats, the House yesterday approved the Republicans' prescription drug plan for seniors by a 217-214 vote, the Washington Post reports. The GOP's $40 billion measure calls for private insurers, backed by government subsidies, to sell prescription medication policies to seniors. While the vote was largely along party lines, 10 Republicans voted against the bill, and five Democrats voted in favor of it (Eilperin/Vita, 6/29). Many Republicans who voted against the bill are from rural areas and expressed concern that "private insurers wouldn't offer drug-only policies in their areas" (Welch, USA Today, 6/29).
As they had promised yesterday, House Democrats, armed with yellow umbrellas marked with the word "shame," walked off the floor in protest (Rovner, CongressDaily, 6/28). Democrats had proposed a $100 billion plan in which a drug benefit would be directly provided through Medicare. But Republicans said that because the Democrats' bill exceeded the $40 billion authorized under the FY 2001 budget Congress approved, it should not be heard. Democrats retaliated by forcing "vote after vote on minor procedural questions," condemning the Republicans' proposal in floor speeches and making House clerks "read aloud sections of their plan." House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) said of the House GOP measure, "This is a PR effort. It's a sham. It's a hoax. ... It's not writing a plan that will help the American people" (Washington Post, 6/29). Democrats eventually forced a vote on a scaled-back version of their bill, which met the $40 billion criteria, but the House rejected that measure on a 222-204 vote. Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) denounced Democrats' diversionary tactics, saying, "The Democrats are throwing a temper tantrum to divert attention form the merits of our bill. In walking out of the House today, they walked out on America's seniors" (Pear, New York Times, 6/29).
Will Anything Get Done?
Despite the House vote yesterday, the outlook for passage of a prescription drug bill that President Clinton would sign is uncertain, the Los Angeles Times reports (Rosenblatt, 6/29). In fact, Clinton promised to veto the Republican plan if it reaches his desk, saying that it "is designed to benefit the companies who make the prescription drugs, not the older Americans who need to take them" (McGinley, Wall Street Journal, 6/29). While members of Congress "are actively debating the merits of passing a bill, then going home" to tout their accomplishment to constituents, it is possible that lawmakers "could continue to debate the issue and use it as a weapon to pummel their opponents during the fall campaign," the Los Angeles Times reports (Rosenblatt, 6/29). Still, it is "increasingly doubtful that any substantial changes [will] be enacted into law this year," the Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Koszczuk, 6/29). Martin Corry, a lobbyist for AARP, added, "Short of lightning striking, this issue is not going to be resolved this year. What they are really doing is laying down a base for next year, and there's been progress on both sides of the aisle" (Hosler, Baltimore Sun, 6/29).