- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 17, 2002

A debate over prescription-drug coverage is barely under way in the Senate but already has broken down into partisan attacks, with each side accusing the other of playing election-year politics.

Republicans yesterday railed against the debate procedure set up by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. They said the process was designed not to produce a bill providing a prescription-drug benefit under Medicare, but rather to give Democrats an issue for the November elections.

"This is politics, raw, pure and simple," said Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican.

"By design, we're going to have a failure to pass a drug benefit," said Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican.

Meanwhile, Democrats said Republicans were creating a delay because pharmaceutical companies opposed any legislation that would lower drug costs.

"The drug industry is delighted by delay," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat. "Another day of artificially high drug prices. And it is American consumers who pay."

The Senate is expected to vote today on a motion to proceed to a bipartisan bill aimed at lowering costs by easing the way for generic drugs into the market.

Mr. Kennedy predicted the motion would pass.

Democrats were forced to file cloture on the generic drug bill after Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, objected Monday to bringing it to the floor. Mr. Gregg said Mr. Kennedy failed to honor an agreement to work out certain discrepancies in the bill before floor debate.

Mr. Daschle called the delay a Republican "filibuster."

Under the structure set up by Mr. Daschle, the Senate will consider an omnibus drug bill and members will be able to offer as amendments various proposals for prescription drug benefits under Medicare. Mr. Daschle and Democrats plan to offer a plan that would cost $500 billion over six years and require reauthorization in 2010.

Republicans were angry that Mr. Daschle bypassed the Senate Finance Committee and was allowing this and other proposals to come to the floor without hearings or markups.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said this process will result in "mutually assured destruction."

Under the current budget agreement, he said, any bill that costs more than $300 billion or bypasses the Senate Finance Committee must have 60 votes in order to pass. Because none of the proposals for prescription-drug coverage is likely to muster 60 votes, the Senate ultimately will fail to produce a bill, he said.

Republicans said the Finance Committee likely would have rejected the Democrats' proposal and approved a bipartisan plan probably the $370 billion proposal supported by a group of Finance Committee members, including Sens. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican; James M. Jeffords, Vermont independent; and John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat. Mr. Grassley said the committee had the votes to approve his bill.

Mr. Daschle said he was prepared to bring to the floor any bill from the Finance Committee, but the panel never acted.

Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, said the two sides are "getting closer" to a compromise.

Other Republican proposals include one estimated to cost $150 billion over 10 years.

The House on June 28 passed a Medicare prescription-drug bill estimated to cost $350 billion over 10 years.

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