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Inside Politics
Inside Politics

Blagojevich's prescription for a winning issue

Illinois governor supports medicine imports

By Bill Schneider
CNN Political Unit

Rod Blagojevich

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defying the federal government is risky for a politician. But if it's the right cause, it can make you look like a hero -- and even get you the political Play of the Week.

This week, Illinois Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich took on the feds over the issue of prescription drug imports.

"Unfortunately, the federal government has failed to act. So it's time we do," he declared Tuesday.

Current law bans Americans from purchasing prescription drugs from other countries -- where, because of government price controls, the cost is substantially lower.

In May, Blagojevich dispatched a delegation to Europe to investigate their prescription drug markets. This week, he announced a new program.

"The state of Illinois will create a Web site, the first of its kind in the nation, that provides access to prescription drugs from Canada and England and Scotland and Ireland," said Blagojevich. "We are forming relationships with specific pharmacies and wholesalers in each country that will offer lower-priced prescription drugs to the people of Illinois."

The White House says it's concerned about consumer safety.

"We cannot assure the safety of these drugs that would be imported in the United States," said McClellan on Thursday. "It's a safety matter."

The governor's response?

"It's the same medicine made by the same companies," said Blagojevich.

Polls show the prescription drug program seniors really want is the ability to buy cheaper drugs from other countries. Someone in the White House is getting that message.

"There is a lot of pressure in Congress for importation," President Bush said on Wednesday. "So I think it makes sense for us to make sure that we can do so in a safe way. If it's safe, then it makes sense."

It certainly makes political sense.

"Just the other day, the president began to waver on this. You think he's reading the polls?" Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, said on Thursday.

Or do you think he's paying attention to Blagojevich's political Play of the Week?

Prescription drugs are the only legal item U.S. consumers are not allowed to import.

The administration says free trade is less important than protecting consumers. Critics say it's all about protecting drug company profits.

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