GOP Blasts Dems' Failure to Pass Prescription Drug Bill

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:29 PM EDT

( - Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson is among those expressing disappointment at the Senate's failure to pass a Medicare prescription drug benefit before its August recess.

"We strongly encourage Senators to come together to get the job done upon their return after Labor Day," Thompson said in a statement. "Meaningful prescription drug coverage for seniors is a critically important issue that the Senate cannot fail to address."

The Bush administration supports a prescription drug bill passed earlier by the House, but it does not like the more expensive Senate version, which would spend $390 billion over ten years.

In general, Republicans want private insurers to administer a prescription drug benefit, but Democrats want Medicare (the government) to do it.

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) also issued a statement expressing frustration at "the Democrat Senate's ineffectiveness on providing prescription drugs for seniors."

Said DeLay, "Tom Daschle is either unwilling or unable to pass the legislation that Americans need."

In fact, Daschle urged his colleagues to pass the bill - the Democratic version - but the sixty votes needed to approve it weren't there. This was the fourth prescription drug plan the Senate has rejected in recent weeks. It failed on a vote of 50-49.

Some Republicans say the bill failed because Daschle refused to consider anything other than "partisan" proposals. He put politics above the needs of senior citizens, a number of Republican lawmakers said.

DeLay also accused Daschle of "stalling more than 50 pieces of legislation, including Homeland Security, Pension Security, and a budget.

Election Day is Nov. 5, and the partisan bickering is expected to escalate in the weeks ahead.

Interest groups such as the American Association for Retired Persons say they will give Senators an "earful" when the lawmakers return to their home districts during the current recess.

"We're going to be working state fairs, community meetings, a number of events," William Novelli, chief executive officer of AARP, was quoted as saying.

"I think the message is going to be, 'How could you do this? Go back and get it done. There's no recess from high drug prices.'" Novelli said senior citizens, a dependable voting block, are disappointed, frustrated, and angry.

Although the Senate did not pass a prescription drug measure on Wednesday, it did pass a smaller bill that will increase the availability of relatively cheap generic drugs.

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association pronounced consumers the true winners: "Greater access to effective, therapeutically equivalent, low-cost generic drugs will result in significant cost savings to consumers," it said in a statement.

Pharmaceutical companies, however, generally want to hold patents on the drugs they develop for as long as possible to recover their investments for research, development, and the regulatory approval process for drugs they manufacture.

The pharmaceutical industry warns that without the profits gained from patents, patients will suffer in the long-term, because companies won't have the cash and incentive they need for future drug development.

Although the generic drug bill - the Greater Access to Affordable Pharmaceuticals Act (S. 812) - has passed the Senate, its prospects are not clear, since the House has not yet taken up similar legislation.