- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Objections from some House Republicans are imperiling passage this week of the House GOP's Medicare prescription-drug bill.

Republican leadership aides insist the $350 billion bill will be debated on the House floor before the July Fourth recess begins perhaps as early as today.

"We'll do it before the break," said John Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican. "We're aware of their concerns; we're trying to work with that."

One group of four Republicans is fighting to add provisions aimed at lowering the cost of prescription drugs: Reps. Gil Gutknecht of Minnesota, Jack Kingston of Georgia, Peter Hoekstra of Michigan and Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri tried to get the Republican leadership's attention yesterday by announcing a new task force on the issue.

Specifically, they want to add two proposals to the prescription-drug bill: One would allow individuals and pharmacies to import drugs from other countries, where they are often a fraction of the U.S. price; another would help more generic-drug companies get their cheaper drugs on the market.

The group said it is unwise to move forward with a prescription-drug bill without first addressing the cost issue.

"If we don't deal with the affordability issue first, we'll never be able to get a drug benefit that doesn't break the Medicare bank," Mrs. Emerson said.

Mr. Gutknecht said he would not vote for the underlying prescription-drug bill without the drug-importation provision. He wants to at least be allowed to offer the proposals as amendments during the debate on the bill.

The group said it does not think Republican leaders have the votes at this point to pass the underlying prescription-drug bill.

"I don't think the votes are there," Mr. Kingston said.

Mr. Feehery argued that the Republican bill which would provide a prescription-drug benefit under Medicare already addresses the cost issue and would reduce drug costs by at least 30 percent.

Republicans are also concerned about the idea of creating another federal entitlement program. But a Republican leadership aide said that in most instances members' concerns are not so strong that they would vote against the bill.

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