WASHINGTON -- Republicans pushed a Medicare prescription drug bill through the House early Friday, capping a week in which the GOP also used its slim majority to allow the government to borrow more money and advance a trade bill.
GOP leaders had lobbied reluctant members all week to support the drug bill. In the end, the measure, which has yet to be taken up in the Senate, passed by a near party line 221-208 vote, giving Republicans a victory to tout as they head home for a weeklong July 4 recess.
The vote capped a marathon session that lasted into the early hours of Friday morning. It provided an emotional debate with both sides accusing the other of neglecting the needs of the nation's 39 million seniors on Medicare.
Republicans accused Democrats of wanting a budget-breaking plan that would hurt Medicare in the long run. "We're putting people before politics by lowering the costs of prescription drugs now and guaranteeing an affordable benefit under Medicare," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert.
At the White House Friday, press secretary Ari Fleischer called on both sides to tone down the rhetoric. "The president is encouraged by the House passage and he hopes what will happen now is people seize this moment to work together on behalf of our nation's seniors and not blame each other or finger-point," Fleischer said.
The House bill would spend $320 billion over 10 years to offer seniors a prescription drug benefit and rely mainly on private insurers to administer the plan.
Seniors would pay monthly premiums of about $33 and a yearly deductible of roughly $250.
The government would pay 80 percent of the next $1,000 of drug costs and 50 percent of the subsequent $1,000.
All beneficiaries -- low-income included -- would have to pick up the tab beyond that, until they reached $3,700 in out-of-pocket expenses, at which time all additional costs would be covered.
The Bush administration endorsed the House Republican plan, saying the proposals offered by Democrats would "impose trillions of dollars in new obligations on a Medicare program that already faces a funding shortfall for the baby boom generation."
Democrats complained that the gap in coverage in the Republican plan -- between $2,001 and $3,700 -- would leave seniors burdened with too many out-of-pocket costs. They accused Republicans of being beholden to big business.
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