- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 24, 2002

The Senate voted down two competing prescription-drug proposals yesterday, raising the question of whether the Democrat-controlled Senate will produce any drug plan at all this election year.
"We've got to get it done," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. He said the Senate will stay on the issue until it produces a bill providing a prescription-drug benefit under Medicare.
The floor schedule is getting crowded, though, and senators leave town soon for August break.
Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat and sponsor of one of the failed proposals, said both parties "will pay a price in November" if they fail to deliver a prescription-drug plan. The House has already passed a Medicare prescription-drug bill that would cost $350 billion over 10 years.
Backers of the two failed Senate proposals are in negotiations to produce a compromise. Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat and a key player in the negotiations, said there is a 50-50 chance of getting a compromise at this point.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said he doubts the two bills could be blended because most Republicans will not agree to spend as much as Democrats want.
"I don't see how you do that," Mr. Lott said.
"We are not going to give up," insisted Mr. Daschle. "I think we're closer than most people think."
Both proposals were offered as amendments to an underlying bill the Senate is considering, aimed at bringing more generic drugs to the market.
The two proposals each needed 60 votes because they exceed $300 billion over 10 years and did not go through the Senate Finance Committee.
The first proposal, which failed in a 52-47 vote, is the Democratic prescription-drug plan, supported by Mr. Daschle and crafted by Mr. Miller, Sens. Bob Graham of Florida and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. It would cost an estimated $594 billion over eight years and require reauthorization by Congress, which Republicans scoff at.
The second plan, which failed in a 48-51 vote, is the so-called "tripartisan" plan, crafted by Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, James M. Jeffords, Vermont independent, Mr. Breaux and others. It would cost about $370 billion over 10 years, with $340 billion going for the new Medicare drug benefit and $30 billion going for general reforms to Medicare.
Mr. Grassley strongly criticized the Democrats' "big government" bill, saying it "puts control squarely in the hands of bureaucrats in government."
Mr. Kennedy, meanwhile, said the Grassley bill is "not affordable, not adequate, and not Medicare."
The main difference between the two proposals is the method of delivering the drug plans. While both proposals would use private companies to do so, the Grassley bill is like the House-passed bill in that it would give the companies flexibility in designing the drug plans and picking the drugs that would be covered, and would require the companies to assume some of the financial risk for the plans. Under the Graham bill, the government would determine the plans, determine which drugs would be covered and assume the financial risk.
Mr. Lott and other conservatives favor a proposal that will be voted on today. That plan, sponsored by Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and John Ensign of Nevada would cost about $160 billion over 10 years and would target prescription-drug coverage to very poor seniors and seniors who have exceedingly high prescription-drug costs.

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