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From Barbara Easterling

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Senate Passes Drug Bill Without a Low Cost Prescription Package

Seniors struggling with the rising cost of prescription drugs are asking, why? On Capitol Hill, after filing a cloture motion on the bill S. 812, the Greater Access to Affordable Pharmaceuticals Act of 2001 introduced by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), the Senate on July 31, 2002 ended its current effort to pass a meaningful, bipartisan prescription drug measure that would provide low cost prescription drug relief for seniors and America’s poorest citizens. Earlier in the debate the Senate voted down both the principal Democratic proposal and an alternative Republican proposal. In all, four major prescription drug proposals were offered over the two week debate and not one was able to achieve the 60 vote margin needed to gain acceptance.

The Senate debated S. 812, Senator Schumer’s bill, for two weeks. This bill served as the foundation or underlying bill for any Senate prescription drug measure that would have been made in order. Throughout the debate, Democrats insisted on making any prescription drug package available through Medicare. From the Democratic point of view, such a plan would have been safer and offered benefits guaranteed by the government. However, Republicans complained about the large price tag of the Democratic proposal while demanding that private insurers be allowed to offer the plan. The problem associated with such a market driven Republican plan cried Democrats, is that there were no guarantees, that insurers would determine premiums, co-payments, deductibles and a range of other costs. Several times, Senators worked to negotiate deals on a plan that would include both concepts. However, those proposals failed as well.

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Democrats and Republicans have their work cut out this August trying to convince voters that they did all they could to meet seniors’ needs. Some Members on the Senate side are even talking about new proposals upon their return in September.

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It was no surprise, but nonetheless discouraging news. The Senate passed Fast Track on a 64-34 vote. The only good news in the otherwise dismal defeat for workers and the environment was that three Democrats came to their senses who had voted for the terribly flawed legislation when it first passed out of the Senate back in May. Democratic Senators Mark Dayton (MA), John Edwards (NC) and Tom Harkin (IA), all saw their amendments gutted in the midnight conference deal last week and voted against the bill.

When the roll call vote was completed, a majority of Senate Democrats had opposed the bill. In May, an average of 88% of Senate Democrats supported amendments on trade laws and workers’ rights that Labor and our allies fought for. So, there was some progress albeit, not nearly enough.

Now we must hold those pro-Fast Track Democrats (aka: Free Traitors) accountable for their “labor rights” rhetoric and insist that they press the Bush Administration early and often on that subject. US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick is anxious to finalize as many trade deals as possible before the 2004 Presidential election. CWA will be watching closely how much more of the store (and our jobs) he gives away in these deals.

Bush Signs Corporate Accountability Bill into Law at High Profile White House Rose Garden Ceremony
(Some Former Corporate Friends Not Present at the Party)

On Wednesday July 31, 2002, in an elaborate Rose Garden ceremony, President Bush signed into law the eagerly anticipated Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. The bill is formerly known as H.R. 3763, the Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act of 2002 (Public Law Number 107-204). The bill establishes new audit accountability laws and imposes severe criminal penalties for wrongdoing by corporate executives and for accountants that provide advice to publicly held corporations. It also establishes a new accounting watchdog organization, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. The Board is charged with overseeing the activities of accountants and accounting firms.

In a high profile public ceremony replete with a performance by the United States Marine Band and steeped in full White House ceremonial regalia, the President was surrounded by the chief architects of the bill Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and Representative Michael G. Oxley (R-OH 4) Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, House and Senate leadership as well as members of Congress and of the President’s Cabinet.

Absent was any significant representation from corporate America. This is important in view of the fact that the President now wants to be seen as sending a swift message of responsibility and accountability to corporate “evildoers” like ENRON executives and others by the way, whose company heavily supported then Governor (TX) Bush’s presidential campaign. Likewise, the President’s earlier support of the House accountability bill became a liability for the President and other Republicans because it did not contain the strong language or the sweeping corporate reform provisions found in the Senate Democratic substitute bill. From a political standpoint and in view of the huge financial losses suffered by recent exposure of corporate fraud and greed, passage of the House bill that appeared to be weak on corporate “evildoers”, for Republicans, would not have played well with voters in the upcoming November elections.