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Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, And Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2007

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


AGRICULTURE, RURAL DEVELOPMENT, FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2007 -- (Senate - December 05, 2006)

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Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I ask my colleagues' indulgence to speak on another very important topic, another amendment filed under this bill. And the topic is sky-high prescription drug prices and the ability to temper those prices, to bring them down, to some significant extent, through what is called reimportation, allowing all American consumers a fair, safe opportunity to buy prescription drugs from Canada or other countries.

I filed this amendment, amendment No. 5151, on this Agriculture appropriations bill with my colleague from Florida, Senator Nelson. I thank him for all of his work and support on this amendment and on this issue.

This follows up on work earlier this year, when we successfully passed an amendment on the Homeland Security appropriations bill. That was a breakthrough vote, particularly on the floor of the Senate, to allow Americans greater access to those safe prescription drugs from Canada at much more reasonable prices.

Our amendment on the Agriculture appropriations bill would go a little further still and expand those opportunities for Americans to buy safe, yet affordable, prescription drugs through reimportation from Canada.

First, let me step back and speak about the need for this in general because there is a significant need. At a time when pharmaceutical companies are making record profits, the cost of prescription drugs--many of which are necessary to keep seniors and other Americans healthy or sometimes, in fact, alive--is skyrocketing. And these are the very same medicines that are sold at a fraction of the U.S. cost a few miles north of our border in Canada.

With all that going on--again, in the context of sky-high, record pharmaceutical company profits--Americans are deeply skeptical. I am here to say that Americans should be.

Opposing the right of an American to buy a small amount of prescription drugs--approved medication they intend to use for themselves--does not make sense to the average American. Yet that is still, to a large extent, our policy.

Many of my colleagues have spoken passionately on this floor, the floor of the Senate, about their own neighbors' stories, about how folks in their States have had to go to cheaper markets, such as Canada, to afford their prescriptions.

In September, my colleague from Michigan spoke of her bus trips with her constituents up to Canada to get these more affordable medicines.

She traveled there by bus with her constituents, and they were able to get safe, FDA-approved drugs at a fraction of the cost in the United States. She told us about her constituents who were able to buy the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor for about 40 percent less than the U.S. price, the ulcer medication Prevacid at 50 percent less, and antidepressants such as Zyprexa at 70 percent less.

In June, another colleague from North Dakota spoke eloquently of the need to allow reimportation of safe drugs as a way to pressure U.S. pharmaceutical companies that manufacture these very same drugs--our companies are the source of the same drugs--to lower prices in the United States.

I have spoken over and over again about my neighbors in Louisiana, their struggles, in many cases, to afford these lifesaving and life-sustaining drugs, being torn by various needs--to pay the rent, the food bill, the gasoline bill, energy costs--and yet have to pay sky-high pharmaceutical costs. Clearly, one part of the solution is reimportation, allowing all Americans to buy safe prescription drugs from other countries such as Canada.

As I said, I am proud to be joined by Senator Nelson of Florida on this amendment. He joined me several months ago on a similar amendment which we offered to the Homeland Security appropriations bill. It passed overwhelmingly with 72 votes, a strong consensus show of support on the Senate floor. That amendment was very simple. It said: We are no longer going to let the border security bureaucracy of the Federal Government use taxpayer money to take away those cheaper prescription drugs many Americans go into Canada to buy and bring back to their homes. We are going to let those Americans do that because that is fair and right. We were only talking about Canada. We were only talking about taking them back across the border in quantities that are for their personal use, not to go into business to be a middleman selling drugs to other consumers but for their personal use. That amendment not only passed by a strong vote in the Senate, but it remained in the bill through the entire process.

After a lot of fighting, a lot of discussion and argument and work on this crucial issue, we were able to retain an important version of that amendment in the final version of the Homeland Security appropriations bill. President Bush signed it into law. Now we have made that important change that says Americans can go into Canada, buy those safe, cheaper prescription drugs for their personal use and bring them back without border security agents taking them away, confiscating them, and having them out the cost, trouble, and time of their trip.

Today Senator Nelson and I offer amendment No. 5151 to the Agriculture appropriations bill. Of course, that bill covers the FDA as well. This amendment builds upon our earlier work and our earlier success and applies that same policy to the Food and Drug Administration, which is another enforcement arm of the Government on this topic. Again, it is simple. We are simply saying: Our taxpayer dollars should not be used to confiscate those prescription drugs bought by Americans in Canada. Just as it should not be used to confiscate them at the border as Americans cross back across the border to their home country, so, too, that bureaucracy, those taxpayer dollars, should not be used to confiscate drugs when they come from mail order or Internet sales. That is exactly what our amendment is about--Canada only, personal use only, a thoroughly reasonable, straightforward provision to honor the American people and give them this limited yet reasonable and important mechanism to get cheaper prescription drugs from elsewhere.

I am very hopeful that either this week or in the near future this sort of provision will pass, particularly given the strong vote we had on the earlier Vitter-Nelson amendment. I am also hopeful that in the next Congress we will be able to pass a full-blown reimportation bill to allow broad-based reimportation of safe, cheaper prescription drugs into this country. That is needed by Americans, particularly seniors, across the land. It is a fair and reasonable approach. It is not a magic wand, not a silver bullet. It won't solve the challenge of very high prescription drug prices overnight or alone. But it can and will be an important and significant part of the solution.

I look forward to continuing to work with Senator Nelson of Florida and many others on this vitally important effort. I look forward to our work on this amendment to the Agriculture appropriations bill. I look forward to our following up on the success we had with our amendment to the Homeland Security appropriations bill.

Most of all, I look forward to passing a broad-based reimportation bill early in the next Congress to give Americans what they deserve--the opportunity, the freedom to buy safe, cheaper prescription drugs from other sources, Canada, other countries, including by mail order and the Internet. This will give Americans access to cheaper drugs. Perhaps even more importantly, it will break down that system that allows pharmaceutical companies to charge dramatically different prices in other countries versus ours. Of course, we pay the highest prices by far.

I look forward to that continuing work. I look forward to those victories, because the American people are waiting for it, counting it, depending on it. We can do this with major safety provisions built in to make sure these drugs are safe and reliable, as advertised.

I yield the floor.

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