The country's top political leaders converged on Northeast Ohio this past Monday and they were all talking about expanding Medicare to address the high cost of prescription drugs. Those leaders included President Bill Clinton, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, and House Speaker Denny Hastert. They weren't all gathered at the same place. Hastert spoke to a senior center in Mentor while Gephardt was with the President in Cleveland when he spoke at the downtown library.
Ley Garnett- A woman from Garfield Heights was a special guest among the Presidential entourage on stage. 76 year old Wanda Golias told the crowd in the library atrium that since she's been using an inhaler to control her asthma, she hasn't been to a hospital. But she's hard pressed to afford the prescription.
Wanda Golias- It just doesn't seem right that Medicare program would pay for the cost of a hospital stay - thousands of dollars - but not for the medication that would keep me out of the hospital.
President Clinton- We want to provide with Medicare, a prescription drug benefit that is optional, that is voluntary, that is accessible for all, anybody who wants to buy in it can. A plan that is based on price competition, not price controls, that is, we don't want to control the price but we want to use the fact that if we're buying a lot of medicine, seniors ought to be able to get it as cheap as anybody else (applause).
LG- The President compared the lack of prescription drug coverage to automotive maintenance. He said it doesn't make sense to pay four thousand dollars for engine repair when a 25 dollar oil change would have headed off the problem. He offered an olive branch to the Republican controlled Congress.
President Clinton- This is not a partisan issue. You know a lot of people say 'we don't want to do this, this is an election year.' Look they can name this prescription drug program after Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge and Warren Harding. It's fine with me. You know, put some Republican's name on it, I don't care. Just do it, because it's the right thing to do for the seniors of our country (applause).
Steve LaTourette- I happen to think that if we are able to pass a law and get the President's signature, it's a good thing for seniors, it's a good thing for America. But I've also been around here for five years and we're in the silly season and we'll have to see.
LG- Representative Steve LaTourette says he agrees with the concept. On the same day the President was in Cleveland, LaTourette played host to House Speaker Denny Hastert in Mentor. The 19th district Republican expects Congress to pass a Medicare prescription drug benefit bill this year.
Denny Hastert- It's going to be tough because we're in the middle of an election year and there are people in both parties that have a vested interest in sort of gaining a political point on this issue. But the Speaker's commitment to the folks in Mentor, at least, was that we were going to get it done if we at all possibly could.
LG- But he's not sure the President will sign it into law. He says that's because the Republican bill will probably administer the drug program outside of Medicare, perhaps giving states that authority.
DH- I don't know that our party is married to any one particular idea, but the idea of a government run pharmacy doesn't excite a lot of members in the Republican Party.
LG- Late yesterday, the House Budget Committee reported out a spending bill that provides money for a prescription drug benefit through Medicare. Now the political fight begins in Congress to formulate the program. For INFOHIO, I'm Ley Garnett in Cleveland.