- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 8, 2006

Congressional Republicans will hold hundreds of town hall meetings and workshops during their two-week break, aggressively promoting the Medicare prescription-drug benefit in the face of continuing attacks on the program from Democrats and others.

House Republicans alone have 200 Medicare events planned so far, and the House Republican Conference predicts more will be added.

“If each of us holds two of these events during this district work period, I think we can successfully counter the Democrats’ campaign of misinformation and get the word out to all our seniors that prescription-drug relief has arrived,” conference Chairman Deborah Pryce, Ohio Republican, wrote in a letter that was included in the packets given to all House Republicans as they left for their break.

The deadline to sign up for the prescription-drug program is May 15, after which seniors will face a penalty for late sign-up.

About one-third of the packet House Republicans received is devoted to the Medicare drug program. It includes talking points, positive updates on the program from the administration, sample opinion pieces for newspapers and details on how to host an effective Medicare workshop.

Senate Republicans also are being told to host Medicare events and were given similar information to take home during the break. The Senate Republican Conference also has been issuing a steady barrage of Medicare-related e-mails to combat Democratic attacks.

The drug program — which President Bush and Republicans pushed through Congress in 2003 — got off to a rocky start in January with enrollment glitches and other problems. Supporters say things have smoothed out, but critics have called the program confusing and ineffective. Democrats are helping seniors sign up for the program, but pushing legislation that, among other things, would postpone the May 15 deadline. They say the penalty to sign up after that date amounts to a prescription-drug tax.

Democrats said they, too, will be talking about the program to constituents across the country during the break.

“Our members will also be addressing the countdown to May 15 when President Bush’s prescription-drug tax will be placed upon seniors who do not sign up for the prescription-drug bill,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. “Because it is complex, seniors have not been able to find the right program initiative to sign up for.”

Republican leaders are sticking to the deadline, saying it is an incentive for seniors to sign up.

“It isn’t our intention to extend the deadline,” said House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, citing “tremendous additional costs.”

Brad Woodhouse, spokesman for Americans United, a coalition of labor and civil rights groups, said his group is holding events in 20 states to highlight how confusing the program is. During the second week of Congress’ two-week break, AU will shift its focus to specific Republicans, pressuring them to extend the deadline and make major fixes to the program, including allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with the drug companies for lower prices.

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