- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 1, 2002

Senate Democrats were unable to muster the votes to pass their prescription drug plan yesterday, shelving the issue for the foreseeable future and leaving the two parties to point fingers and predict retaliation by voters in November's elections.
"It's the same old story: a Republican open hand to the wealthy and powerful, and a Republican back of the hand to the elderly and their families," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.
But Republicans said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, orchestrated the failure to create an election issue.
"What it says to me is that Senator Daschle all along was going to have an issue, not a result," said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican.
Mr. Daschle decided to move to other legislation after yesterday's vote, ending two weeks of debate spanning four proposals to create a prescription drug benefit as part of Medicare.
Democratic leaders only managed 49 votes in favor of their plan shy of the 60 votes needed when a measure has a bigger price tag than what's called for in the budget. The budget allots $300 billion over 10 years for a drug plan, but the Democratic plan spent $390 billion.
Five Democrats and the chamber's lone independent joined 44 Republicans in opposing the Democrats' plan, while four Republicans joined the rest of the Democrats in supporting it.
The Democratic bill relied on Medicare to cover costs for the poorest seniors and allowed other seniors to enroll in catastrophic drug insurance that would kick in if their yearly bill topped $3,300.
Mr. Daschle said his proposal failed because Senate Republicans wouldn't budge from insisting that private companies be involved in delivering the benefits.
"The reason it didn't [pass] is we couldn't get Republican votes," Mr. Daschle said. "The Republicans in the House, if you recall, didn't even give the Democrats a chance to offer an amendment. We gave our Republican colleagues whatever chance they wanted to offer amendments. But they would not support a prescription drug benefit under Medicare."
Democrats had initially proposed a 10-year, $594 billion plan run through Medicare, which would have offered benefits to everyone enrolled in the program.
Senate Republicans put forth a $370 billion program administered by private companies that would have offered more limited benefits and another plan to help just the neediest seniors.
All of those proposals failed last week, though, with none of them gaining more than 52 votes eight shy of the 60-vote threshold.
The House in June passed a bill expected to cost $320 billion over 10 years by a vote of 221-208. That bill would have used private companies to deliver drug benefits.
Eight Democrats voted for the plan, and eight Republicans voted against it.
Republicans in both chambers yesterday said the House's success contrasted starkly with the Senate's failure, and they blamed Mr. Daschle.
"The fact of the matter is the House acted, they acted some time ago, and they acted with a significant vote and a significant program $350 billion. The Senate, under Senator Daschle's leadership, has not been able to get a result," Mr. Lott said. "It's going to be pretty hard to try to blame it on somebody else when you're in charge and you don't get it done."
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said in a statement that "if partisan politics isn't the case, then it's another glaring example of how the Republican-led House is where the people's business gets done and the Democrat-led Senate is where common-sense initiatives wilt away in the summer heat."
The White House called the Senate's failure to pass a bill "disappointing for America's seniors" and urged the Senate to try again.
"The president believes that where there is a will, there is a way, and he hopes the Senate will find a way to get prescription coverage to seniors," spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
The Senate leaves for the August recess at the end of this week and already has a full schedule when it returns in September. Both sides said they may try again, but they also said the other side will have to be the first to blink.
Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, said Democrats must move away from a government-run program, and Mr. Daschle said Republicans have to give up on relying on private health-maintenance organizations.
Without an agreement, prescription drugs becomes an issue for the November elections, both sides said.
"If Republicans won't vote for a prescription drug plan worthy of the name in September, the American people will vote for a Congress that will do the job in the elections in November," Mr. Kennedy said.
The Senate did approve a bill yesterday to allow generic drugs to reach the market faster by limiting patent rights of name-brand drug producers, which would also allow U.S.-made drugs to be reimported from Canada.
Mr. Kennedy said the proposal is the logical next step after the bill that President Bush signed into law this week to crack down on corporate malfeasance this time in the form of drug companies' "abuses" of the patent process. He urged the House and Mr. Bush to follow the Senate's lead.
"Public outrage forced them to react to the abuses of the accounting profession and the modern-day corporate robber barons, and I believe public outrage will also force them to react to abuses of the pharmaceutical industry," he said.
Some Republicans opposed it, though, saying it would discourage brand-name drug companies from creating new drugs, which could actually hurt users in the long run.
"We're sacrificing future cures for political payout today," Mr. Santorum said.
The bill passed 78-21 and now goes to the House, where some members already plan to pursue a similar bill.

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