A pitched battle today in the United States Senate prominently features one Iowa Republican and two Democrats running for President who’ve decided to stay in D.C. rather than come to Des Moines for this afternoon’s presidential debate. Senator Charles Grassley helped craft the bill which would for the first time include a prescription drug benefit as part of Medicare, the government insurance program for seniors. Grassley says the bill includes long overdue improvements in Medicare’s complex regulations and also “revitalizes the rural health care safety net with the biggest package of rural payment improvements that Congress has ever done or seen.” Grassley, as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has been leading debate. Grassley urged his colleagues “to put the interests of our seniors first and give them more choices and benefits by supporting this bill.” Grassley says the bill’s made it this far because of bipartisan cooperation. Grassley says the “narrow partisanship” of a few democrats is trying to destroy that effort. Presidential candidates John Kerry and John Edwards are both senators, both spoke today on the Senate floor and both oppose the bill. Edwards spoke shortly before a procedural motion this afternoon set the stage for a vote on the bill within the next day. Edwards says “the bill is a perfect example of the kind of legislation that should not go through the United States Senate.” Edwards says the bill does nothing to help reduce the cost of prescription drugs, and gives 12-billion dollars to H-M-Os to help them “compete” for seniors business. Edwards says that money would be better spent helping seniors who can’t afford prescription meds. Kerry spoke right after Edwards. Kerry says the headlines in the newspapers read ‘Drug Companies Win in Battle over Prescription Drugs.’ Kerry says if drug companies won, that means senior citizens lost. Kerry says “there’s nothing in this legislation that lowers the cost of prescription drugs” and will end up allowing prices to escalate. The two Senators joined this afternoon’s Democratic presidential candidate debate in Des Moines by satellite. Another Senator who’s running for President, Joe Lieberman, last month turned down the invitation to appear at the debate in Des Moines but today Lieberman asked to join by satellite. The Democratic National Committee, which is hosting the debate, says it’s “not technically possible” to have Lieberman join, too. The bill being debated in the Senate would provide a new prescription drug benefit for those age 65 or older — at 35-dollars-per months. The prescription drug insurance, which would be provided by an insurance company not the government, would pay 75 percent of an individual’s drug costs. But once someone spends 36-hundred dollars in a year on prescription drugs, they’d reach “catastrophic” coverage, which means the rest of their meds would be covered. The bill cleared the House on Saturday by five votes.
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