House passes GOP prescription drug bill
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- House Republicans ignored Democratic protests and a presidential veto threat Wednesday and passed a prescription drug benefit for Medicare recipients by a vote of 217-214.
The free-market oriented GOP plan would be voluntary and provide drug coverage to seniors through private insurance companies. It would offer government subsidies to assist the poor and cost $40 billion over five years.
That is less than half the cost of the $100 billion Democratic plan which relies on the government-run Medicare program to provide the drug coverage.
Democrats protested the GOP decision not to allow a floor vote on the their plan by marching off the floor as the debate began Wednesday morning.
Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, responded by saying the Democrats had walked out on seniors.
"Democrats obviously value election year politics over a real solution that will help give America's senior citizens more affordable, often live-saving prescription drugs."
Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Missouri, fired back: "It's a sham. It's a hoax. It's public relations. It's electioneering. It is not writing a plan that will help people," he shouted from the House floor.
President Clinton, who had offered Republicans a deal to boost the drug coverage in exchange for tax cuts elsewhere, said, "the bottom line is their plan is designed to benefit the companies who make the prescription drugs, not the older Americans who need to take them."
The Republican plan would cost policy holders about $37 a month with a $250 deductible. It would cover half the costs of drugs up to $2,100 and pick up all the costs after a senior had spent $6,000 out of pocket.
The Democratic plan would cost about $25 a month when it begins but would rise to about $50. There would be no deductible. It would cover half the costs of prescription drugs of to $2,000 before rising gradually to $5,000.
Seniors would pay nothing after they had spent $4,000 in a year on drug costs.
The Senate has yet to take up similar bills.
CNN Producer Ted Barrett contributed to this report.