WASHINGTON -- Sen. Mark Dayton said Wednesday he will donate his $141,000 salary to continue his "Rx Express" trips to Canada until the federal government provides a decent Medicare prescription drug benefit.
In doing so, Dayton used his first Senate speech to fuse together two elements of last year's successful campaign: his promise to forego his salary, and his media-grabbing bus trips to Canada, where seniors bought prescription drugs at a deep discount.
"However, the solution to prescription drug affordability is not to bus every Minnesotan to Canada," said Dayton, D-Minn. He challenged Congress and the president to come up with a prescription plan within a month.
Dayton's staff is working out a deal with the Minnesota Senior Federation, a St. Paul-based group that helped organize trips to Canada.
"We're very delighted," said Janis Ray, the federation's first vice president. "This is great."
The federation hasn't calculated how many trips it will be able to fund with the money, but Ray said it would be "quite a few."
The average saving per senior on last year's trips was $300, Dayton said.
"Unfortunately, today, Congress shows little sign of reacting with urgency to this emergency," he said.
President Bush has proposed giving states funds to provide drug coverage for seniors whose incomes are at or below 135 percent of the poverty line; while seniors with incomes between 135 and 175 percent of the poverty line would receive partial coverage.
Dayton said that prescription drug coverage should be universal.
"I made some important promises to Minnesotans -- promises that I intend to keep," he said. "Foremost among them was my promise to Minnesota senior citizens to help design and pass prescription medicine coverage that would be available to everyone receiving Medicare."
Dayton said he was willing to compromise, perhaps covering seniors up to 175 percent of the poverty level, with private insurance for those above that.
He said the promises of Social Security and Medicare were "unraveling" for many seniors.
"Instead, higher and higher prescription drug prices have destroyed their financial health, and ravaged their emotional well being," he said.
About a month before taking office, Dayton said he might not be able to live up to his campaign pledge of taking only $1 in salary. But after the move generated criticism, Dayton agreed to his original promise.
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