Senate Democrats seek votes for prescription plan

$390 billion compromise looks likely to be defeated

July 31, 2002|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Senate Democrats scrambled yesterday to garner support for their latest plan to provide prescription drug coverage to seniors, but they were still short of the votes necessary to save the measure from defeat today.

The Senate is set to vote this morning on the $390 billion proposal, which would provide assistance to the poorest and sickest Medicare beneficiaries. Sponsored by Sens. Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat, and Gordon H. Smith, an Oregon Republican, the plan was scaled back considerably from a $594 billion proposal that Democrats were pushing last week, which would have covered all seniors.

That proposal and a $370 billion Republican plan that also would have covered all seniors but at a lower subsidy level were defeated on budgetary objections last week. Unless Democrats can attract enough Republican support today to muster 60 votes in support of the new proposal, it will meet the same fate.

Democrats who face tough re-election challenges in November have privately pleaded with their leaders in recent days to offer a drug proposal that they could support and the Senate could pass.

The House passed a $350 billion prescription drug coverage measure in June, and vulnerable senators in both parties are fearful that their constituents will blame them if the Senate does not follow suit by passing a measure of its own.

Many Democrats are referring to the new proposal as a "down payment" on the prescription drug benefit they want to provide for all seniors. They were joined yesterday by seniors' groups, including the AARP, in lobbying forcefully for the bill.

Senate GOP leaders and White House officials were working equally hard to persuade rank-and-file Republicans not to support the Democratic plan.

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