Healthcare

Conservative House Members May Kill Drug Bill

Thirteen conservative congressmen who voted in June for the House version of the proposed prescription drug entitlement (H.R. 1) announced this week they will oppose the final version of the bill if it does not control costs and contain key Medicare reforms.

This coalition, led by Rep. Pat Toomey (R.-Pa.), may be enough to kill the bill, whose preliminary version passed the House by one vote, 216 to 215 (see HUMAN EVENTS, June 30 and July 14 issues), on June 26.

Speaking for the group, Toomey told reporters Wednesday that without important Medicare reforms and cost-cutting measures, the new entitlement would endanger the well-being of future taxpayers.

“We can’t afford an open-ended, unlimited entitlement that has no controls on costs,” he said. “We think it’s fiscally irresponsible to pass a bill that would have no controls on costs.”

The Senate passed its own version of the massive new government entitlement in June. But the House bill-estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to cost $405 billion over ten years-includes some free-market reforms to Medicare that conservatives have advocated to control costs. The more costly Senate version, estimated to cost $461 billion over ten years, is simply an expansion of Medicare to include prescription drug coverage.

The final bill is being negotiated in a House-Senate conference, but this announcement by Toomey and the 12 other lawmakers portends a legislative impasse that may prevent passage altogether. Republicans control the conference committee, making Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R.-Md.)-a member of Toomey’s coalition-hopeful that the emerging bill will meet conservatives’ minimum standards.

“For the first time in many, many years, we could have a bill that will come out of conference better than it went in,” Bartlett told HUMAN EVENTS.

However, conferees will likely find it impossible to craft a bill that can pass both the House and the Senate. Even as conservatives resist the expensive new entitlement in the House, Senate Democrats have promised to filibuster any bill that contains the reforms demanded by Toomey, Bartlett and the others.

The 13 conservatives signed a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R.-Ill.) demanding that the House-Senate conference return with a structural guarantee that it will cost less than $400 billion over ten years-less than either the House or Senate version that passed in June. (SEE BELOW) They also demanded the specific reforms contained in the original House bill.

The confrontation over prescription drugs has, surprisingly, shown the strength of conservatives in the U.S. House. Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind.), who whipped votes against the prescription drug bill in June, praised Toomey for “drawing a line in the sand,” and predicted that the new opposition from these 13 conservatives would lead to the bill’s failure.

“I am cautiously optimistic that this bill literally could die of natural causes in conference,” said Pence. “With the legislative calendar being shortened, and with us finding ourselves after the session ends in a presidential year, we may actually survive the 108th Congress without the largest new entitlement since 1965 becoming law.”

Pence and 18 other conservative congressmen, including Senate candidates Richard Burr (R.-N.C.) and Jim DeMint (R.-S.C.), defied the White House by voting against the original bill in June.

Conservatives’ Letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert

“. . .[W]e will vote no on the prescription drug bill out of conference unless it includes four specific reforms that were part of the reason we voted for H.R. 1:

1) A policy of no price controls on the U.S. drug industry to insure continued innovation and financial health of this vital industry.

2) A policy that requires Medicare to compete with private insurers after the year 2010 so that taxpayer costs will be driven down through the forces of competition.

3) A generous expansion of health care savings accounts to give health care consumers more options in choosing health plans and coverage that meet their individual needs and control costs.

4) Finally, as we stated prior to our votes in favor of the House bill, the conference bill must include a cost control feature in the bill that guarantees that the price tag will not exceed $400 billion over 10 years.

If the final drug bill does not meet each of these criteria, we believe that it would be contrary to the interests of current and future generations of taxpayers to vote for the bill. . .

Sincerely,

Pat Toomey [R.-Pa.]
Joseph R. Pitts [R.-Pa.]
David Vitter [R.-La.]
Marsha Blackburn [R.-Tenn.]
Gresham Barrett [R.-S.C.]
Tom Feeney [R.-Fla.]
Jeb Hensarling [R.-Tex.]
Sue Myrick [R.-N.C.]
Trent Franks [R.-Ariz.]
Roscoe Bartlett [R.-Md.]
Scott Garrett [R.-N.J.]
John Carter [R.-Tex.]
Joe Barton [R.-Tex.]


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