WASHINGTON - The House Republican leadership has unveiled a Medicare prescription drug benefit plan that it hopes will prevent Democrats from capitalizing on the strong political support for providing drug coverage to senior citizens. Republicans have characterized the Medicare RX 2000 Act as a bipartisan bill, but it has only two Democratic co-sponsors, Reps. Collin Petersen of Minnesota and Ralph Hall of Texas, and it has been repudiated by President Clinton and Democratic Party leaders.

White House-backed Democratic bills essentially use funds pooled from senior citizens to supplement federal money to provide specific amounts of drug coverage as an extension of the current Medicare program. In part because the size of the benefit is capped, it is possible to offer this type of benefit for a low premium.