AARP NH Primary debate

Democratic Candidates Target GOP Medicare Drug Plan during AARP Debate

The Republican-backed Medicare prescription drug bill is providing a convenient target for some of the Democratic Presidential candidates.

At a forum in New Hampshire Tuesday, some of them slammed the Republican plan, which would provide prescription drugs to senior citizens.  The sponsor of the event, the AARP, endorsed the Republican legislation Monday.

Raquel Maria Dillon of New Hampshire Public Radio reports.

Listen with Windows Media Player: AARP Debate (transcript below)

National Public Radio (NPR)

November 19, 2003 Wednesday

Democratic presidential candidates respond to the AARP’s endorsement of the $400 billion prescription drug benefit to Medicare



Morning Edition (11:00 AM AM ET) – NPR

LENGTH: 904 words


The Republican prescription drug bill is providing a convenient target for some of the Democratic presidential candidates. At a forum in New Hampshire yesterday, some of them slammed the Republican plan, which would provide prescription drugs to the elderly. The sponsor of the event, the AARP, had endorsed the Republican legislation on Monday. From New Hampshire Public Radio, Raquel Maria Dillon reports on the bill and its detractors.


Republicans on Capitol Hill have put together a $400 billion plan to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. Democrats have attacked the proposal saying it would undermine Medicare, pressure beneficiaries to join private health plans and fail to help needy seniors. Yesterday in New Hampshire, the argument escalated at an AARP forum. The moderator, Gwen Ifill of PBS’ “Washington Week,” delved right into the debate.

Ms. GWEN IFILL (“Washington Week”): The AARP officially yesterday announced that they would support this plan and will undertake a $7 million television campaign in order to try to get it passed in Congress. We will be able to see for the first time this morning…

(Soundbite of boos)

DILLON: The audience, mostly older, undecided primary voters bused in from around the state, was clearly upset that their organization had endorsed the Republican bill and skeptical that the GOP plan would help them at all. Wesley Clark, John Edwards, Howard Dean, John Kerry and Richard Gephardt all criticized the legislation and the AARP’s endorsement of the bill.

General WESLEY CLARK (Democratic Presidential Candidate): This bill is a Trojan horse. We’ll get a bill that gives seniors a prescription coverage and protects Medicare.

(Soundbite of applause)

Senator JOHN EDWARDS (Democratic Presidential Candidate): The drug companies, the insurance companies and the HMOs have a stranglehold on Washington. They have lobbyists swarming the Congress. You cannot move…

Dr. HOWARD DEAN (Democratic Presidential Candidate): …why this bill is wrong. It is a giveaway to the drug companies and it does very little for the seniors of this country.

(Soundbite of applause)

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democratic Presidential Candidate): By the time you get a benefit, your out of pocket about 1,200 bucks and you get about 1,500 bucks in benefit. Then you’re paying your premium…

Representative RICHARD GEPHARDT (Democratic Presidential Candidate): You’re falling into the trap that’s been set by the pharmaceutical companies. It’s a Republican bill; therefore, it’s a bad bill.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DILLON: Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman brought his 89-year-old mother along to the forum to cheer him on. He says he wants to reserve judgment on the Republican plan.

Senator JOE LIEBERMAN (Democratic Presidential Candidate): The fact is that it will provide 10 million senior citizens, more than 80,000 in New Hampshire, who don’t have any prescription drug benefits. I want to take a few days. I’m not going to give a knee-jerk reflex reaction and say no way.

DILLON: The Republicans are hoping to peel off the support of some Democrats, including Lieberman. Signing on the AARP, a powerful senior lobbying group, was a major step towards convincing them. Already, the AARP has produced a TV ad to push the proposal.

(Soundbite from TV ad)

Unidentified Woman #1: Well, it’s not perfect. We know there are millions of Americans…

Unidentified Man #1: …who can’t afford to wait for perfect.

Unidentified Woman #2: They need action now.

Unidentified Woman #3: This is a good opportunity that will be gone if not approved this year.

Unidentified Man #2: That’s why AARP supports this bill as a good first step.

Unidentified Man #3: And we promise to keep fighting to make your prescription drugs more affordable.

Unidentified Woman #2: Tell Congress to keep their promise.

DILLON: For the presidential candidates who serve in Congress, this presents a bit of a dilemma. Back the bill and serve up a victory to President Bush and the Republican congressional leadership or attack the bill and risk alienating a critical constituency. The Democrats also spent plenty of time sniping at each other. Gephardt was early on the attack.

Rep. GEPHARDT: Governor Dean, 1996, said we should send Medicare to wholly managed care program. I was glad to hear him say today he didn’t like this bill. Maybe he doesn’t have that view anymore.

Ms. IFILL: Congressman…

Rep. GEPHARDT: Think of turning this over to the private sector, into the tender mercies of the HMOs, I will never do that, and I’ll fight against George Bush.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. IFILL: Thank you, Congressman…

DILLON: Dean brought a prop to defend himself. He held up a stethoscope.

Dr. DEAN: Well, I won’t respond to what Congressman Gephardt had to say other than holding up this and reminding Congressman Gephardt that I’m the only one up here that’s ever taken care of a patient. I have no intention of cutting their health-care benefits.

DILLON: Some Democrats in Congress have suggested a filibuster to prevent the Republican plan from becoming law. Others may be willing to vote for the legislation now and hope to expand coverage and reduce out-of-pocket expenses for seniors later.

For NPR News, I’m RMD in Concord, New Hampshire.