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From the CQ Newsroom: Senate Republicans Reject Cloture to Proceed to Medicare Drug Price Bill

By Drew Armstrong, CQ Staff

April 18, 2007 -- Senate Republicans successfully blocked Democrats' Medicare drug price negotiation bill Wednesday morning, holding fast against a motion to proceed to consideration of the measure by a vote of 55–42.

Democrats worked for days to find enough support to reach the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture, or limit debate, to proceed to the bill (S 3).

The legislation would remove a prohibition in current law (PL 108-173) that bars the government from negotiating drug prices on behalf of the private plans that administer the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

After the vote, Max Baucus, D-Mont., who managed the bill on the floor, criticized Republican opponents.

"It's beyond me why the Senate would not choose to stand up for seniors," Baucus said in a statement. "Concerns about a bill from the House should not frighten Senators into silence on an issue this important."

Baucus was referring to a tougher House bill (HR 4) that would require the government to negotiate Medicare drug prices. If the Senate bill had passed, the plan was to move it into conference with the House legislation and end up with a stronger measure.

After the failed cloture vote, Republicans were quick to slam Democrats for not offering to work toward consensus on the bill in the closely divided Senate.

"The pattern continues," said Minority Whip Trent Lott, R-Miss. "When are the Democrats and their leadership . . . going to start working with us?"

Democrats were not giving up, however. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., one of the Senate's most vocal proponents of overhauling health care, said bill supporters would be back. "The fight is going to go on after today's vote," he said.

Options for resurrecting the Medicare prescription drug price proposal include attaching it to piece of moving legislation, or modifying the current version with more specific negotiating authority limited to just a few types of drugs.

Six Republicans voted to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill: Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Susan Collins of Maine, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Gordon H. Smith of Oregon, Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

Matthew Spieler contributed to this report.

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