PRESCRIPTION DRUGS AS PART OF MEDICARE
Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I will make a very brief opening statement and then our friend and colleague from Nebraska, Senator Hagel, who has been extremely active and has a very innovative proposal to deliver prescription drugs to our seniors, is going to take over for this side for the remainder of the afternoon.
This is indeed a historic debate. "Historic debate" is a term perhaps over used in the Senate but that is not the case today. Today, after almost 40 years from Medicare's creation, we begin debate on legislation to help our most frail citizens acquire the miraculous but expensive prescription drugs they need.
For decades, we have witnessed the ever-expanding power of innovative pharmaceutical drugs both to cure and to treat. For decades, we have talked about providing our seniors, the poor and fragile of our society, the financial aid and means to acquire those wonder drugs. For years, colleagues on both sides of the aisle have talked of the need. Today, the talk ends and the action begins.
What begins today will be completed this year. There are many reasons but none greater than the leadership of one man, George W. Bush. He is the reason we are at this point in the Senate today. It is President Bush who has made the commitment, shown the leadership, and challenged the Congress to act that has made this day possible. Yet President Bush's Medicare effort, like that of past Presidents, might have been for naught except for the leadership of Dr. BILL FRIST. As a doctor and reformer in the 1997 Medicare Commission and now as Senate majority leader, he is uniquely qualified to make a difference, and a difference he has made in that his decisive leadership has resulted in this bill, S. 1, which we have before us today and will have before us for the next 2 weeks, if that is what it takes to get final action.
Other prescription drug bills have been before the Senate, but this is the first time the Senate considers a bill actually reported out of the Finance Committee with an overwhelming bipartisan vote. That is truly unprecedented and a further tribute to Dr. FRIST.
Success has many fathers and anyone would be hard-pressed to limit just one Democrat as critical to the success we have today. Senators BREAUX, BAUCUS, and KENNEDY have all been as unwavering as they have been untiring in their efforts to provide prescription drugs to our senior citizens. On our side of the aisle, Chairman GRASSLEY skillfully navigated this bill through the Finance Committee to a strong bipartisan vote. Senator Nickles, the Budget chairman, is to be commended for ensuring full funding of the President's Medicare proposal in the budget and his tireless work to ensure the bill keeps faith with the President's original proposal and the future generations his proposal sought to protect. I look forward to continuing working with him to produce the best bill possible.
I want to say again the efforts of our colleagues, Senator CHUCK HAGEL and Senator JOHN ENSIGN, with their innovative proposal, which I hope will be thoroughly vetted in the course of this debate, are to be commended for their outstanding leadership on this issue. Combined, these efforts have produced a bill that will strengthen and improve Medicare and guarantee a prescription drug benefit. It will improve the quality of Medicare to guarantee its benefits for our parents and our children. It preserves traditional Medicare while allowing seniors to choose a benefit package that best fits their needs and gives them the same type of choices enjoyed by those of us in Congress and other Federal employees. It protects low-income seniors by giving them additional help in paying for prescription drugs. It protects all seniors from catastrophic drug costs. It addresses many of the problems associated with rural health care for our seniors on Medicare.
Debate on this bill will be difficult. Some will say it does too little. Others insist it does too much. Some will say the reforms go too far. Others will say the reforms do not go far enough. Where I stand is about where the President stands. He applauds the product but believes we need to do more reform, and I agree with that entirely. He believes in a fair competition between Government and the private sector to provide goods and services at the lowest costs, the private sector will win. I certainly agree with that, provided we craft this in a way that gets the private sector a chance.
He believes any reform of Medicare must begin with the infusion of private sector responsiveness and cost control. Again, I certainly agree.
The questions we share are: Will we achieve more reform? Will we ensure fair competition between the Government and the private sector? Will the reform we inject exceed the costs of the new benefit? That is what this debate is about. Today we begin to shoot with real bullets. This is no longer a ploy for the next election; this is about the next generation. This is not just about Medicare prescriptions; it is about Medicare preservation. This is not just about our parents and our grandparents; it is about our children and our grandchildren. If we keep this in mind, I believe we can produce a product that preserves the social contract of Medicare with our parents, as well as our children.
I yield the floor.