Senate Democrats Offer to Double Funding for Rx Drug Benefit
In the debate over a Medicare prescription drug benefit, Democrats "raised the stakes" yesterday, vowing to "seek more than twice as much" funding as President Bush has proposed -- $153 billion over next 10 years, the New York Times reports. Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) called Bush's plan "grossly inadequate," adding that Senate Democrats would propose a $310 billion to $330 billion plan to provide drug coverage for Medicare beneficiaries. Although Graham admitted that "a lot of people will have sticker shock" over the "price tag," the Times reports that the Democrats' numbers mirror those suggested by lobbyists for seniors. Howard Bedlin, vice president of the National Council on the Aging, said, "People are naive if they think they can provide a voluntary prescription drug program that would be attractive to Medicare beneficiaries for much less than $400 billion over 10 years. That's the reality." Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) agreed, adding, "By all standards that we know, a decent drug benefit might cost $40 billion a year." Today, the House Budget Committee will meet to "adopt a framework" for spending and tax legislation. Republicans have proposed spending $153 billion over 10 years for Medicare reform, including a prescription drug benefit, and White House officials "still regard" that number as the "appropriate amount." Democrats on the committee have drafted an amendment that would provide $350 billion over 10 years for prescription drugs under Medicare, however the Times reports that the proposal, which would reduce funding for a GOP-backed tax cut, would not likely pass. Still, some Republican senators, including Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), said that $153 billion "would not be enough" to offer a drug benefit to all 39 million Medicare beneficiaries(Pear, New York Times, 3/21).