His vote against the Medicare legislation in the House of Representatives nearly sunk the bill. Sponsors had to hold the vote open more than an hour to persuade other Republicans to come on board so they could eke out a one-vote victory.
Pence then returned to Indiana's Sixth District over the Fourth of July break to face the music from constituents. He decided to level with them – to tell them that the proposal in the House to extend a prescription-drug benefit to seniors had a laudable goal but simply wouldn't work. It's too expensive, he told them. It would cause millions of seniors to lose the private drug coverage they now enjoy, and it could lead to socialized medicine. He refused to vote for legislation that his children and their children wouldn't be able to afford.
We can take heart in the reception Rep. Pence received. His constituents had questions, and they were by no means ready to give up on the concept of a drug benefit for seniors. But they understood this is harder than it looks. "I've been impressed with people's acceptance of our position," he told a local newspaper. "No one has said, 'Your vote is wrong.'"
Nevertheless, pressure remains on Congress and the White House to do something about prescription-drug costs for seniors. President Bush originally proposed a system modeled on the popular Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), which serves 9 million people, including members of Congress and their staffs, the White House staff, federal retirees and current employees and their families.
In this system, patients choose an insurance program that meets their needs, and insurers agree to provide a package of core benefits plus others to better suit customer needs in exchange for a shot at this large pool of customers. President Bush originally proposed that the pot be sweetened for seniors who leave Medicare – a cash-strapped, poorly managed, bureaucratically slowed program unpopular with many medical professionals – and enter these private plans.
But he's backed off that because he, like Congress, seems convinced that something, anything, must be passed – and soon.
The federal employees' program may not be perfect, but it gets high marks from virtually all users. There has to be some reason why Congress voted to ensure that members and retired members retain the benefits of FEHBP, not the program it would foist on the American people.