- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 19, 2002

Republican Sen. John McCain has been uncharacteristically supportive of the Bush administration's stance on Iraq, but yesterday demonstrated he can still be a thorn in his party's side.

Mr. McCain joined House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt and other Democrats in urging House Republican leaders to act on a Senate-passed bill aimed at lowering prescription-drug prices by bringing more generic drugs to market.

Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican, helped craft the Senate version of the bill, which passed the Senate in a 78-21vote in late July. The White House did not support it.

"I've always taken positions on a variety of issues on what I believe in, what my life and my experiences taught me," he said afterward. "So, because I have strong support for the president on Iraq should somehow mean that I depart from the positions I have held for 20 years? I don't think so."

At the press conference, Mr. McCain said "millions of dollars in campaign contributions" from pharmaceutical companies are "clearly the cause of our failure to act" on the generic-drug bill.

"Let's show some compassion for those people who can't give a million dollars to a fund-raiser," he said, while standing alongside Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York.

House Republican leaders are not planning to bring up the generic-drug bill. They say it's unnecessary because they have already acted to help seniors with prescription-drug costs, by passing a comprehensive Medicare prescription-drug benefit. The Senate has failed to pass it.

House Democrats are "trying to change the subject from the comprehensive prescription-drug plan that they mostly voted against," said John Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.

He said they are positioning themselves for the November election on an issue they are losing ground on.

"The biggest liability Democrats have is that the Senate Democrats couldn't pass anything," on a Medicare prescription-drug benefit, Mr. Feehery said.

The Senate failed to pass four separate proposals for a prescription-drug benefit under Medicare.

At the press conference, House Democrats announced they would file a discharge petition in an attempt to force the House to act on the generic-drug bill. The bill would close loopholes used by drug companies to block generic drugs from getting to market.

"Generic drugs can force brand-name drug prices down," Rep. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat, said in advocating the bill.

With elections approaching, each party is blaming the other for failure to enact legislation this year to deal with the high cost of prescription drugs.

Democrats said House Republican leaders are failing to act on what can become law this year the bipartisan generic-drug bill.

"We can enact legislation this year or we can let one more year go by," said Rep. Karen L. Thurman, Florida Democrat.

Mr. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, said "the House has a chance to take one simple, feasible step to cut drug prices for us all," by passing the generic-drug bill.

He called the House-passed prescription-drug-benefit bill "a sham and a fraud" that was written by the drug companies.

Mr. Schumer said prescription drugs will be a major issue in November, because, "no matter what happens in Iraq, people still care about their own health."

"This is going to be a major issue and all eyes now focus, in my judgment, on the House leadership," Mr. Schumer said.

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