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Wall Street Journal - Vitter Prevails in Prescription-Drug Debate

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Location: Washington, DC

Wall Street Journal - Vitter Prevails in Prescription-Drug Debate


A junior Republican senator prevailed in a lengthy battle Thursday night on the Senate floor to pass legislation that could let Americans buy cheap prescription drugs from Canada via the Internet.

But Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana acknowledged in an interview that his amendment to a $43 billion funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security is likely to be stripped from the final bill.
Mr. Vitter's proposal passed 55-36 with nine absentees.

"There was a lot of opposition and the drug industry has been doing everything it can to stop this," said Mr. Vitter, a longtime proponent of drug reimportation, as it is called in Congress. He added, "There was a concerted effort to kill this around the Democratic table last night."

Several key Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and his lieutenant, Richard Durbin, (D., Ill.), initially opposed the measure before eventually voting with Mr. Vitter, Democratic and Republican staffers said.

A spokesman for Mr. Reid said the majority leader was concerned that the amendment was not germane to the funding bill and slowed down its passage. The spokesman also said the bill doesn't guarantee people can purchase Canadian drugs via the Internet. "Because Sen. Reid does support lower drug prices, in the end he decided to vote yes," he said.

Reimportation has been politically popular, but Republicans and Democrats both complained that Mr. Vitter held up the appropriations vote for hours. Mr. Vitter said he thought it was important to raise the matter in some venue.

"I don't understand why I am not hearing about drug reimportation in all the health-care reform proposals," Mr. Vitter said.

The prescription drug industry and its lobbying group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, have strongly opposed reimportation. This week, the administration and the group's president, Billy Tauzin, said that reimportation is basically off the table.

After a meeting at the White House Tuesday morning, Mr. Tauzin said his industry and the White House agree that if the larger health-care bill passes, the cost savings will be big enough to make reimportation unnecessary.

A White House official said, "As a political matter there may be less pressure" to pursue reimportation after a health bill passes.

Mr. Vitter noted that he and then-Sen. Barack Obama co-sponsored a bill for reimportation in 2006.

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