- The Washington Times - Friday, July 25, 2003

The House began its summer recess yesterday after passing a flurry of legislation including a bill, over the administration’s objections, that would allow Americans to import prescription drugs from other countries where they are sold cheaper.

“The people’s House freed the American people from a market that forces them to pay three, four, five, even 10 times as much for the same prescription drugs as our friends in Canada and Europe,” bill sponsor Rep. Gil Gutknecht, Minnesota Republican, said of the bipartisan 243-186 House vote in favor of the measure. Eighty-seven Republicans joined 155 Democrats and one independent in support of the bill, while 141 Republicans and 45 Democrats voted no.

Other bills passed by the House yesterday include a measure to reauthorize the Head Start program and a 2004 spending bill to fund veterans programs, NASA and the department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Bush administration called the Gutknecht drug-importation bill “dangerous legislation.” The administration and House Republican leaders do not like it because they are concerned about the safety of the drugs that would be imported.

But House leaders allowed a vote on the measure because of a deal they had struck with bill supporter Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, Missouri Republican. Mrs. Emerson agreed to vote for the Republicans’ Medicare prescription-drug bill in exchange for a House floor vote on the Gutknecht bill.

Now, Republican leaders say they will accept the bill as part of the House Medicare prescription-drug measure, which is in conference with the Senate Medicare bill.

“It’s the position of the House, clearly, so that’s what we’re going to the conference with,” said John Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.

Mr. Feehery added that the White House has “serious concerns” with the Gutknecht bill, which might prompt a veto threat over the Medicare bill if it is included.

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan would only say the administration will “work with Congress on the conference committee, as we’ve been doing.”

The Gutknecht bill — which the pharmaceutical industry lobbied heavily against — would allow individuals, pharmacists and wholesalers to import FDA-approved drugs made in FDA-approved facilities in 25 industrialized countries where they are sold cheaper. It includes safety provisions, but a bipartisan group of 53 senators sent a letter Thursday to leaders of the Medicare prescription-drug conference, urging stronger safety requirements.

The House yesterday also passed, 352-60, an emergency appropriations bill to provide $984 million for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The White House originally requested $1.55 billion for FEMA, as well as other funding to fight forest fires and help NASA respond to the shuttle disaster.

The Senate passed the president’s supplemental, after adding more provisions, including $100 million extra for the AmeriCorps program.

But House Republican appropriators late this week agreed with the White House and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, to pass the scaled-back House version targeted only to FEMA, said a House Appropriations Committee spokesman.

By passing their bill, then recessing for the summer, the House left no time for a conference to work out differences with the Senate’s version, which means the Senate will have to accept the House version in order to get a bill to the president.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, railed at this, saying the House supplemental is “totally inadequate.”

The veterans spending bill — which the House passed 316-109 yesterday — includes $480 million for AmeriCorps’ parent organization, the Corporation for National and Community Service, which is more than last year but $118 million below the president’s request.

Democrats yesterday tried but failed to force the House to accept the Senate’s child-tax-credit bill, which would extend the $400-per-child tax credit passed last month to include 6.5 million families who don’t earn enough to pay income taxes.

With checks now being mailed to 25 million families that do pay income tax, Democrats said it was unfair to leave out the other families.

But House Republicans are reluctant to expand the program to those with no income-tax liability, and have insisted that in exchange for accepting that provision the Senate must accept an $80 billion bill that pays for the tax credit through 2010, instead of 2004.

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