Healthcare

Page 3: Pence and Flake Stand Up Against Drug Entitlement

President Bush brought 20 House conservatives to the White House last week, hoping to stop them from opposing the Republican plan to vastly expand the welfare state by creating a new prescription drug benefit (see last week’s HUMAN EVENTS cover story and Page 3 interviews with members). The group, led by Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind.), one of the feistiest and most articulate young conservatives in Congress, left the meeting unconvinced by Bush’s arguments.

Pence was joined in his skepticism by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), another feisty and articulate young conservative star, (who did not attend the White House meeting). Flake said he was "embarrassed" that his party was trying to expand the welfare state.

The pressure from conservatives to abort the plan has increased so much in the past week that, as of our Thursday press time, the House leadership was busily trying to ram the bill through before members were scheduled to leave town June 27 for the July 4th recess.

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Should a Republican-controlled Congress create a permanent new part of the welfare state with a new prescription drug entitlement for senior citizens?

REP. CHRIS CHOCOLA (R.-IND.): Well, I campaigned on the fact that we need a prescription drug program, but as my wise old grandfather said, it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. So I’m not fully satisfied with where we are right now. I’m undecided. I want to see where we are and what the White House guys are doing. I think we’ve got an opportunity to make good on a promise that the politicians have been making for years and years. But we’ve got to be careful about how we do it. . . ."

Congressman, does it concern you that there’s a $275 annual deductible in the Senate version for drugs, and beyond that, you have people with mortgages and kids paying for prescription drugs for even senior citizens who are very wealthy-even if they have $100,000 in investment income every year? Specifically, would that be a problem?

CHOCOLA: Well, again, there’s a rump group. I think they’ve got some very good aspects of their plan, in the sense that it recognizes that not everybody needs the same benefit. I wish that was reflected more in this bill. But not everyone does need the same benefit. But I’m not chairman yet. I don’t get to write the bill.

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Should a Republican-controlled Congress permanently expand the welfare state by creating a new prescription drug entitlement for senior citizens?

SEN. MIKE CRAPO (R.-IDAHO): I don’t know. I’m evaluating this bill as we go along. I’m not in a position to comment on it right now. I have serious problems and concerns with it, and it’s going to address some serious issues. I’m not going to endorse it yet.

Would you at least be in favor of making it means-tested?

CRAPO: Well, right now I’m not going to make any comment on that kind of an issue.

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Should a Republican-controlled Congress permanently expand the welfare state by creating a new prescription drug entitlement for senior citizens?

REP. JEFF FLAKE (R.-ARIZ.): No, it should not, and I’m embarrassed that we as a party are doing it.

What’s the goal here? We’ve been talking about privatizing Social Security, etc., and now this.

FLAKE: We seem to have forgotten it as a party. We’re looking for short-term political gain at the expense of good policy. And I hope that we can derail it before it comes along.

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Should a Republican-controlled Congress create a permanent new part of the welfare state with a new prescription drug entitlement for senior citizens?

REP. VITO FOSSELLA (R.-N.Y.): I think it’s appropriate to see if we can modernize the Medicare system and try to develop an appropriate prescription drug plan for all Americans, in particular for the seniors. And I hope that we err on the side of providing people with more choice and freedom when it comes to their health care, than just saddling it with more money.

A lot of people are saying that this is the biggest new government program in 40 years, and it’s the Republicans that are putting it into practice. Considering that we’re running a $400-billion deficit this year as it is, is this a good policy?

FOSSELLA: I think if it lays the foundation, really, to provide a modernized Medicare system to reflect the medical needs of 2003 with an appropriate prescription drug component, it’s fine. But I don’t want to see the private sector crowded out, I don’t want to force people out of the plans that they already currently enjoy. I would hope that, at the end of the day, that’s what the package reflects.

If you see the package as not reflecting that, will you vote against it?

FOSSELLA: Yeah, if I thought it was not in the best interests of America or taxpayers, I would vote against it.

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Should a Republican-controlled Congress create a permanent new part of the welfare state with a new prescription drug entitlement program?

REP. KATHERINE HARRIS (R.-FLA.): I don’t think that’s the way I’d categorize it at all. Certainly, if we have the opportunity to do something important for Medicare and create a prescription drug benefit for our seniors, we think it’s really important.

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Should a Republican-controlled Congress permanently expand the welfare state by creating a new drug benefit-or entitlement-for senior citizens?

REP. MELISSA HART (R.-PA.): We’re not talking about creating a new entitlement. We’re talking about having Medicare provide healthcare to senior citizens as it was designed to in 1965. The problem is, the health care system has changed. So if most senior citizens get their health care and their ability to stay healthy and out of the hospital by taking prescription drugs, it’s time that we look at providing assistance to them for prescription drugs.

Do you think that this bill will decrease Medicare costs in the long run?

HART: I don’t know. We’re trying to find a way to make it do that. There are a lot of reforms in Medicare that are needed, and so far it sounds like some of them are getting into this bill, and we’re working to make sure more do.

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Should a Republican-controlled Congress permanently expand the welfare state by creating a new prescription drug entitlement for senior citizens?

REP. MIKE PENCE (R.-IND.): Absolutely not. I’ve talked to a number of conservative members who came to Congress to re-limit the government along constitutional lines, and to roll back the welfare state. And we simply should not be a party to expanding the welfare state by creating the largest new entitlement in 35 years.

Do you think there’s really any chance, or is this just hopeless? I mean, between the Republicans you can find, and the Democrats who will vote against it because they want something more generous, are you going to be able to stand up to the leadership and everybody else?

PENCE: I don’t know, but God has surprised me a few times since I got here, and I hope He’ll surprise me again.

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Should a Republican-controlled Congress permanently expand the welfare state by creating a new prescription drug entitlement for senior citizens?

SEN. JOHN SUNUNU (R.-N.H.): Well, look, that’s obviously a loaded question. The goal here is to create a totally new model for Medicare, to have a PPO option that looks a lot like the health care benefit that many federal employees see. It creates a level of competition in the Medicare marketplace that has never existed before. And if we can do that, we will have done a very good service in the cause of bringing competition into government and limiting government intervention in the health care market.

If there’s a $300 deductible for seniors’ drug costs, and the rest of their bill is going to be footed by working families and younger taxpayers, do you support a bill that does that?

SUNUNU: I haven’t voted for any bill yet.

Will you vote for it if it ends up the way it is now, so that there’s a $300 deductible-

SUNUNU: I haven’t decided.


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