Monday, June 26, 2000
WASHINGTON - Members of Congress from both parties revved the engines on the Medicare drug benefit cars last week, making like they were ready to take off down the track. While they made a big effort to look like they were working hard to enact Medicare prescription drug legislation, and are likely to make more commotion in the coming days, they are actually not moving an inch toward resolving their differences and crafting a bill that actually could be signed into law.
Congress will be in session for about 20 more days and members will be kept busy with appropriations legislation. Given the narrow window, a Medicare prescription drug benefit can be enacted only if the parties come to a consensus. In fact, the biggest hurdle has been overcome - agreeing that a drug benefit should be provided. And despite their rhetoric, the two sides are not very far apart. But a deal is very unlikely to happen because it would remove a potent campaign issue and would require that prominent members of both parties swallow some of the vitriol they've poured on the opposition.