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Inside Politics

Lawmakers rally around prescription drug bill

Measure would allow for imports from Canada

By Bill Schneider
CNN Political Unit

ON CNN TV
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It's rare these days for an issue to break through the boundaries of partisanship. When it does, we'll call it the political Play of the Week.

What issue can bring together Ted Kennedy and Trent Lott? The high cost of prescription drugs.

"We pay here in the United States the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. ... We believe it's unfair," Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-North Dakota, said at a news conference Wednesday.

There's a grass-roots rebellion brewing across the United States.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty described it this way this past fall: "I think we are doing the prescription medicine equivalent of the Boston Tea Party."

Seniors are outraged over prescription drug prices, and politicians smell an issue.

Why not let U.S. citizens import prescription drugs from other countries? Isn't that supposed to be one of the advantages of globalization?

"I'm a Republican. Let's go out into the world market and try to get a better deal for Americans," said Pawlenty.

States are taking matters into their own hands.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, three states and the District of Columbia have passed laws regulating drug imports or re-imports.

Seventeen more states are considering related legislation.

The official New Hampshire Web site even offers links to Canadian mail order pharmacies that the state says it has found to be safe and reliable.

The U.S. House of Representatives by a 243-to-186 vote last year passed a bill to allow legal re-importation of prescription drugs from Canada. Many different versions of the same bill have been proposed in the Senate.

Now senators, led by Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, have gotten their act together.

"A group of us, Republicans and Democrats, decided to see [if] we could put together a core bill that represents the philosophy and the practical approaches that will actually allow this to happen," explained Dorgan.

Does the bill have a chance?

The Bush administration, the Food and Drug Administration, and congressional majority leaders have opposed the idea. The White House says it's waiting for the results of a study of drug re-importation that is required by the new Medicare law. Drug companies will have their lobbyists out in force.

"This one has a lot of horsepower and a lot of firepower behind it in terms of the membership that are in support of it," said Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts.

And it's an election year. If the voters want cheap imports, they're likely to get cheap imports. And the politicians who give it to them get the political Play of the Week.

What about the new Medicare prescription drug plan?

It does not give seniors the one thing they really want -- lower drug prices. So they're taking matters into their own hands.

And politicians are rushing to catch up.


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