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Medicare Prescription Drug Legislation

Location: Washington, DC

MEDICARE PRESCRIPTION DRUG LEGISLATION -- (House of Representatives - February 10, 2004)

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under the Speaker's announced policy of January 7, 2003, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Pallone) is recognized for 60 minutes as the designee of the minority leader.

Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, I come to the House floor tonight to once again highlight several questionable activities by Republicans during and after the Medicare prescription drug legislation passed the House of Representatives last year.

Seniors have already begun to voice their opposition to the new prescription drug bill, as well they should. Seniors know that the Republican bill forces seniors to get their prescription drug benefits outside of Medicare. They have already calculated the supposed prescription drug benefit they would be getting under the law and realize that it is minuscule.

Just to cite some examples, consider that seniors with a thousand dollars in annual prescription drug costs would pay $857 out of their own pockets; or that those seniors with prescription drug costs of $5,000 a year would be forced to pay $3,920. Now I ask: What kind of benefit is that? If seniors are not getting the money, where is the $500 billion that it is now estimated that this prescription drug so-called benefit would cost the Federal Government? Where is the money going if it is not coming to the senior citizens?

There is no doubt in my mind that both Republicans here in the House and in the Bush administration are concerned that seniors are not buying this plan. Many of our seniors have contacted us and told us that this is a terrible plan and it is not going to help seniors, and it is a boondoggle for the special interests, HMOs, and the pharmaceutical companies. I think what is happening is the Republican leadership here in the House and President Bush and his administration realize that the public thinks, rightly so, that this Republican prescription drug plan for seniors is a farce. So last week we got wind of the fact that the Bush administration's Department of Health and Human Services was going to spend $22 million to rebut criticism, and this was stated by the administration, to "rebut criticism of the new Medicare law through an advertising campaign on television and through the mail."

Some may have already seen these ads. I think it is outrageous. I have to say that here we are talking about how bad this bill is as part of our free speech that we all exercise, and seniors are saying it is a bad bill, and the Bush administration has the gall to now spend $22 million in taxpayer money to try in their own terms, and I quote, to "rebut criticism of the new Medicare law."

I think the American public should be concerned that the President is spending $22 million of the taxpayers' money, money that could be used to actually help seniors with their prescription drug bills, than trying to rebut legitimate criticism of the Republican and the Bush administration Medicare prescription drug plan.

President Bush should be concerned that seniors are not buying his prescription drug bill, but maybe, instead of spending taxpayers' money to try to rebut legitimate criticism, he should be talking about how he could change the bill. Or, alternatively, if the President wants to use his own campaign dollars, he has amassed about $150 million in campaign contributions over the last couple of years, a lot of which has come from the pharmaceutical and the insurance industry, if he feels that he needs to rebut the criticism, then let him spend money out of his own campaign war chest from those same people that he helped in creating this terrible legislation. Do not use the taxpayers' money to do it.

The Republicans are saying, and this is what I have heard, they claim they are just trying to inform seniors about the new prescription drug plan with this taxpayer-paid ad campaign. One of the ways that you know that that is not the case is that the Department of Health and Human Services decided to use the same media firm that is working on advertising for President Bush's reelection campaign. We know there are a lot of advertising agencies out there, but why would the Department of Health and Human Services just happen to choose National Media, Inc., which is the same media firm that is working for the President's reelection campaign?

It is not a coincidence. Who knows what benefit or collusion there is in the fact that the taxpayers' money is being used for an ad campaign to rebut the Democrats' and others' criticism and at the same time it is the same agency that the President's reelection campaign has hired. But it is clear from this collusion, if you will, this is not a coincidence. The sole purpose of these taxpayer ads is not to inform seniors about the new prescription drug law but instead to try and convince them that the law is not as bad as they think. Both the television ad and the two-page flyer that they are sending out are oversimplified and distorted and I think they are clearly political propaganda that should not be paid for with taxpayers' funds.

Let me just give my colleagues an example, because I have some of the ads now and I can just show them how political they are and why they should not be paid for by the taxpayers. Let me give my colleagues one example of how the Department of Health and Human Services' distortion of the Medicare prescription drug law is played out in these ads.

In one of the ads an announcer states, and I quote, it's the same Medicare you've always counted on, plus more benefits like prescription drug coverage. That is the end of the quote. Any viewer of this ad is naturally going to assume that the prescription drug benefits would be available through Medicare.

The ad goes on to claim, and I quote, it's the same Medicare you've always counted on, plus more benefits like prescription drug coverage. The fact is the supposed prescription drug benefit is not included in Medicare. Instead, seniors have to go outside of Medicare, either to an HMO or a PPO, to get their prescription drug coverage. So the ad is totally inaccurate. It is suggesting to the viewer that you can get your prescription drug coverage through traditional Medicare when in fact you cannot. You have to join an HMO or something like it, like a doctors' group called a PPO in order to get the benefit. So it is not like traditional Medicare and you are just adding the benefit.

I think it is simply wrong and it is unacceptable for the Bush administration to use the taxpayers' money for such a misleading and useless ad and flyer, $22 million that could be used to help seniors with a prescription drug benefit rather than thrown away on this ridiculous ad campaign.

Last week, Mr. Speaker, I joined several of my colleagues in sending a letter to the Comptroller of the General Accounting Office asking the agency to investigate this misuse of government funds with the ads. Because, frankly, I think it is illegal. Last Friday, the General Accounting Office agreed to investigate the legality of the ads and the flyers.
I do not think there is any question it is illegal. The law is clear that Federal law bars the use of public funds for political or propaganda purposes. There is no way anybody can interpret this and say it is not political or propaganda purposes.

It is my hope that the GAO will see these ads for what they are and conclude that the taxpayers' dollars should not be used by the Bush administration in an attempt to sell its lousy prescription drug bill.

I want to talk about the next step. This is what the administration is doing, using the taxpayers' money
to try to distort what this Medicare prescription drug bill, so-called, is all about. But it is not just the Republicans at the Department of Health and Human Services that I am concerned about.

Because today's Roll Call newspaper, the Capitol Hill newspaper, includes an article about how the House Republican Conference, that is the Republican Members of Congress, is now coming up with a script described as similar in fashion to the one created by the Department of Health and Human Services that I just talked about that its Republican members could use for public service announcements. These public service announcements again would be taped at taxpayers' expense through Congress' recording studio.

So now we have got the Bush administration through its agency spending taxpayers' money, the Members of Congress, if they do these public service announcements, taping them at taxpayers' expense through Congress' recording studio.
It is going to be interesting to see how House Republicans try to spin this. They have been trying to spin how this legislation was good. Now they are trying to spin how this taxpayer ad campaign is a good thing.

So far, none of this has worked. Because, basically, the American people understand that it is all spin and there is no substance to any of it, and I would suggest that now the ads, I think, in my opinion are illegal.

I am just hoping that at some point the House Republicans would wake up and realize the reason seniors do not like their prescription drug law is not because the House Republicans have not explained it properly but just because seniors see through all the rhetoric and already know that this Republican prescription drug bill provides a paltry benefit as I explained before. Why in the world would a senior want to have to spend all this money out of pocket to get a very paltry benefit?

The bottom line is that when this bill goes into effect in a couple of years, and it does not go into effect until 2006, which is another reason why you would ask why all this money is being spent on ads to promote it when it does not even go into effect for a couple of more years, but the bottom line is that when it does go into effect most seniors will not even take it. They should not, because it is not giving them any kind of benefit.

Mr. Speaker, this prescription drug legislation, in my opinion, is a perfect example of how the Republican majority has turned the people's House of Representatives over to the special interests and to the wealthy elite; and I think seniors should not be and have not been fooled into believing that this legislation was written for their benefit. The Republicans did not write this bill to help the seniors. They wrote it to benefit the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies.

In fact, many of my colleagues, and I have said for months that this so-called prescription drug bill was being written not here on Capitol Hill but instead downtown in the offices of PhRMA, which is the trade organization for the pharmaceutical industry, and also written by the insurance companies. Here in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, the only true voices that matter as far as Republicans are concerned are those of the special interests and the wealthy elite.

I have talked about the ad campaign, but I see that some of my colleagues are here. I would like to yield to the gentleman from Vermont (Mr. Sanders), who has been outspoken on the need for a prescription drug benefit and the need for us to be able to import low-cost prescription drugs from Canada. He has been outstanding on this issue.


Mr. PALLONE. The other thing, just to add to that, is that when the 17 minutes are up, because I was here, the votes were against the bill. In other words, there were 218 votes, which is a majority, against the bill. So the bill lost at that time. It is just amazing.


Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the gentleman's comments. And I know he is being a little sarcastic in talking about how a bill becomes law, but the fact of the matter is we can use his example on so many occasions in what has been happening here in the last few years under this Republican majority. And what happened with this Medicare prescription drug bill is a great example, as the gentleman has said; but there are many others, and it is just like the whole place has just turned over on the Republican side to the special interests, the corporate interests, the wealthy elite. And I never thought I would see the day when that would happen, but that is where we are.


Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the gentlewoman because she has been down here so many times talking about this issue which she has mentioned and which I find incredible. We are talking about over $500 billion now for this program. Where is the money going? It is not going to the seniors. It is going to the special interests. It is going to the HMOs. It is going to the pharmaceutical companies. And now on top of that, the administration has the gall to spend, and she mentioned $9 million, and I think that is just for the TV ads. The total is 22 million if we add all the printed material and everything else they are sending out to promote a bad bill. It is just incredible. All taxpayer funded. But I appreciate her being here.

I yield now to the gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Brown), who I have to say is not only the ranking member on our Health Subcommittee, but he has repeatedly pointed out not only the faults of this legislation but also how the special interests wrote the bill, and now the administration is spending money to try to justify the bill, all for these special interests that really have no concern about the senior citizens. I yield to the gentleman.


Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, reclaiming my time, the amazing thing is we started off this evening, and I am sure we are going to hear from our colleague from Illinois who brought this to our attention, about this multi-million dollar ad program that the Health and Human Services Department is putting on to try to justify this Medicare bill. You might say to yourself, well, if it does not come into effect for another 2 years, why do they even need to start a $22 million ad campaign 2 years earlier? The ad campaign I think is totally illegal.

Mr. BROWN of Ohio. I am sure it has nothing to do with the election.

Mr. PALLONE. It is just amazing to think the ad campaign is not only to try to tell people that this bad bill is good, but they have to do it 2 years before it goes into effect? As the gentleman said, the only reason is they are concerned about what happens in November in the election.

Mr. BROWN of Ohio. You know what else? They are concerned about what happens in the election. The President and Karl Rove, the political strategist in the White House understand this bill has not gotten a very good public reception; and the reason it has not is because the public is catching on that it is written by and for the drug industry and it is written by and for the insurance industry. The public also, the seniors especially in this country, are beginning to read the fine print of the bill, and they see there is hardly any money out of this $400 billion for their drug benefit. So much of it goes to drug and insurance interests that they just really get pennies on the dollar.

Mr. PALLONE. And the spokesman for the President said, or for the department, which is the Bush administration, said the reason we are spending the $22 million on the ad campaign was "to rebut criticism of the new Medicare law."

So they are specifically saying the reason they are doing the ad campaign is because they do not like the criticism of the law. How can you say that that is not an illegal expenditure of money, when you are not allowed to spend taxpayers' money for political or propaganda purposes? It is unbelievable.

I want to say the gentlewoman from Illinois not only has been out front on this Medicare issue, but she was the first one to bring to our attention on the floor last week that this money was being spent. But as the time goes on, we realize it is even worse than we originally thought.


Mr. PALLONE. What I said earlier, and I strongly believe it when I say it is illegal, is because you cannot spend taxpayers' money on this kind of campaign for political or propaganda purposes. Now the fact that you point out this is the same media firm that is involved with the President's reelection, I think basically proves, or certainly shows dramatically, that it is political. In other words, this company is doing ads for the President's campaign, and now they are doing these ads for the department. They are getting paid now by taxpayers' money. So I think that kind of lends support to the idea that this is political.

I will even go one step further, which maybe you will not, but I would like to know at some point, hopefully with your GAO investigation or some other means, we will find out whether they get maybe a little discount on the political side for getting the contract to do the taxpayer-funded campaign. Who knows where this all goes? But it smells. There is no question about that.


Mr. PALLONE. Or, alternatively, that they may not get a prescription drug benefit at all if they keep the traditional fee-for-service plan.


Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, I want to yield to the gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Brown), but of course what the gentlewoman is talking about are the TV ads, but we understand that this is going to be followed up in millions of dollars of print material, brochures that are going to be going out that are basically doing the same thing. So this is just the beginning; the TV ad is just the beginning of what they are going to do to try to distort what this is all about.


Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, reclaiming my time, what really bothers me, as the gentleman said, since the seniors are so supportive of Medicare and think it is such a good program, when they see these brochures and these other ads going out that are going to have the official Medicare, or government, seal on them, they are going to naturally think, the government is not going to lie to us. The Medicare administration, department is not going to tell us something that is not true.

The gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Brown) mentioned the subliminal aspect. There is a certain sort of seal of authority that comes from the fact that these brochures and these ads and everything are actually from the government; and that really bothers me too, to think that people are going to think that this is an official government enterprise, educating them about the program when, in effect, it is just distorted, what they are being told.

I yield to the gentlewoman from Illinois.


Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, one of the reasons I think it is so important for us to keep talking about this is because if the Bush administration gets away with this, where is it going to end? In other words, now they are spending $9 million on TV, $22 million total. If they think they can get away with it, they will double it. They will triple it. It just sets a terrible precedent. So that is why I think it is so important. I know the gentlewoman from Illinois started talking about it last week. We have to keep at it with the GAO, with the Inspector General to try to stop this, because if not, where is it going to end? It will just continue on over the next 6 months.

Mr. BROWN of Ohio. Mr. Speaker, I just want to thank the gentleman from New Jersey who I know has some drug companies in his State, and he has shown more courage in speaking out for the right things. The drug companies do good things, there is no doubt about it; but they also abuse the public interests in so many ways. The gentleman from New Jersey has always been there fighting for his constituents, even when many wealthy interests in New Jersey do not quite like what he does. All of us appreciate that.

Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman. I appreciate what the gentleman said. The bottom line is we know that the drug companies do a lot of good things; but when they are not doing good things, we have to tell them that it is not good. Otherwise there is no end to it. I think this ad campaign is a perfect example of abuse on the part of the administration.

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