- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 23, 2002

An impasse in the Senate on prescription-drug legislation could affect the hotly contested Senate race in South Dakota, where the Republican challenger says incumbent Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson is part of the problem.
With both Republicans and Democrats expressing doubt that the Senate will agree on a proposal this month, Republican Rep. John Thune of South Dakota is telling voters that Mr. Johnson, his opponent, offers no real solution to rising prescription-drug prices.
"Tim Johnson has spent an enormous amount of his congressional career talking about prescription drugs, but he has never voted for a bill that's passed," said Thune campaign spokeswoman Christine Iverson. "He's talking about something that's never going to become a reality."
Johnson campaign spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said there is still hope the Senate will agree on a plan before its target recess on Aug. 2. And he said Mr. Thune is the candidate with a "cozy" relationship with big drug companies for accepting their campaign contributions.
"South Dakotans have a very real understanding of who's on their side in this issue," Mr. Pfeiffer said. "They remain incredibly skeptical of any plan that has the support of the big drug companies."
Mr. Thune voted in the spring for a prescription-drug benefit under Medicare, supported by House Republicans, that would cost an estimated $325 billion over 10 years. The Senate Democrats' leading proposal has been estimated to cost nearly three times that amount.
"It's a plan that's never going to pass, it's not in the budget, and we'd have to raise taxes and raid Social Security to pay for it," Miss Iverson said. "Talk is cheap; prescription drugs aren't."
The issue is critical in South Dakota, where many senior citizens live in rural areas without a variety of options for purchasing prescription drugs, and where cheaper drugs are available in Canada. The Johnson campaign was on the defensive last week after it was revealed that, despite his pledge not to accept contributions from drug manufacturers, he had in fact accepted about $10,000 from them over the years.
"Tim Johnson claims that he is the only person in the South Dakota congressional delegation capable of fighting big drug companies because he is the only person who has not taken prescription-drug money, and that is absolutely false," Miss Iverson said. "If Tim Johnson can't be honest about who his contributors are, what else isn't he being honest about?"
Mr. Johnson's supporters argued that he took all but $1,000 of the donations before the fall of 1999, when he pledged not to take any more money from drug manufacturers. Mr. Pfeiffer said the $1,000 he took since then was from a DuPont corporation political action committee, "not knowing that DuPont had a pharmaceutical component to that."
"We donated it to charity," he said.
The Johnson campaign said Mr. Thune continues to accept tens of thousands of dollars from drug manufacturers. Asked if Mr. Johnson was wrong before 1999 to accept such donations, Mr. Pfeiffer replied, "This issue has changed over the six years. The behavior of these companies has changed, in the amount of money they're spending and in how they deal with Congress, in lobbying and in advertisements. Prices have gone up as profits have gone up."
Mr. Johnson "wants there to be no question about what side he's on," Mr. Pfeiffer said. "You can side with the seniors of South Dakota, or you can side with the big drug companies."
The latest polling by the Thune campaign, released last week, showed Mr. Thune leading by a percentage point, 44 percent to 43 percent, a statistical tie. Mr. Thune out-raised Mr. Johnson, $927,908 to $712,061, in the latest reporting period.

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