On Oct. 7, 2003, by a vote of 161 to 234, the House defeated a motion by Rep. Jeff Flake (R.-Ariz.) to instruct conferees on the Medicare prescription drug bill (H.R. 1) to extend the proposed entitlement only to needy senior citizens.
As currently written in both the House- and Senate-passed versions, the benefit would be a universal entitlement for all senior citizens, creating great liability for the federal treasury-at least $430 billion over ten years, and possibly much more. Flakes motion would have instead made the entitlement a welfare program, and part of the Department of Health and Human Services instead of Medicare.
In a written statement, Flake scoffed that neither the House nor Senate versions of H.R. 1 would ever allow for a balanced federal budget. “Its going to be impossible to ever achieve a balanced budget with this prescription drug bill,” said Flake. “If the conferees produce a bill that resembles either the House or Senate version, were going to be seeing permanent budget deficits.”
Flake derided the idea of making low and middle income taxpayers buy prescription drugs for wealthy Americans. “It makes little sense to force the average taxpayer to pay for Bill Gates and Ted Turners prescription drug benefit,” said Flake. “Congress has a responsibility to introduce measures that would curb this incredibly irresponsible drug benefit, and I believe that means testing is a good place to start.” Critics point out that a means test would, in effect, penalize those who saved to prepare for their retirement.
While supportive of provisions in the House-passed version that would reform Medicare and allow competitive bidding in health plans, Flake was critical of President Bushs plans to give away free drugs to all Americans, creating yet another form of government dependency. The cynical goal of the entitlement, he suggested, is to pacify senior citizens and buy their votes with billions of taxpayer dollars.
“Our goal ought to be to reform Medicare to ensure its solvency, but one can only assume that the goal of this plan, in its current form, is to buy votes,” he said.
The prescription drug bill passed the House by only one vote in the wee hours of June 27, over the objections of a small band of conservatives. (See HUMAN EVENTS rollcall, July 14, page 34.) Most of the votes against came from Democrats, eager to prevent Republicans from taking credit for creating a new entitlement.
Flakes motion to instruct was largely symbolic, since it would not necessarily compel the conferees to change the prescription drug bill. However, it was significant that a majority of the Congressmen who supported the bill on June 27 also voted for Flakes motion. This was a clear sign that they were reluctant in their support, which bodes ill for the possibility that any bill will emerge from conference at all, let alone by the October deadline the White House has set.
In other words, the vote-although the motion was soundly defeated-was viewed as a victory for conservatives, who do not want to see this expansion of the welfare state become law.
A “yes” vote was a vote for the Flake motion to instruct members of the House-Senate conference committee on the proposed prescription drug benefit to put a means test in the measure. A “no” vote was a vote against the motion to instruct.
|FOR THE MOTION: 161||AGAINST THE MOTION: 234|
|REPUBLICANS FOR: 155
DEMOCRATS FOR: 6
|REPUBLICANS AGAINST: 51
Davis, Jo Ann
DEMOCRATS AGAINST: 182
INDEPENDENTS AGAINST: 1
NOT VOTING: 39
|REPUBLICANS (22):||DEMOCRATS (17):||INDEPENDENTS (0)|