Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Republican Rep. Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri, who tearfully changed her vote three weeks ago to pass the prescription drug subsidy bill by a single vote, sent a private memorandum Monday to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert. What about my payoff, she asked, of a vote to permit re-import of cheaper drugs?

Emerson need not have worried. House Republican leaders do not like re-importation, but such is its support that they must bring up the bill next week for probable passage. Nobody expects a Senate filibuster or a presidential veto. The pharmaceutical industry's pleas that cheap drugs from Canada will undermine research for new wonder drugs go unheeded. The more political, if less credible, argument of a threat to the safety of American patients also fails.

Agents of pharmaceutical manufacturers have been working furiously ever since the promise made to Emerson in the wee hours of June 27. Indeed, nobody outdoes the drug makers in their bipartisan array of high-priced lobbyists or their bipartisan campaign contributions. Yet, with their very existence at risk, the pharmaceuticals encounter loathing on both sides of the aisle in Congress as part of a broader epidemic of anti-corporate hysteria.

Demand for re-importing American drugs, at a dramatically lower cost to consumers because of Canadian price controls, is no longer confined to Democratic politicians from northern border states. The bill pushed by Emerson is sponsored by Rep. Gil Gutknecht, a Minnesota Republican with a 95 percent lifetime American Conservative Union (ACU) rating. Emerson is a cradle Republican (88 percent ACU), the daughter of the legendary GOP operative Ab Hermann.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay kept Gutknecht's proposal out of the prescription drug bill. He won Emerson's vote for the prescription bill during an emotional 2:30 a.m. encounter by promising a separate vote on the Gutknecht bill. That gave the usually adept Republican leadership time to win opposing votes, but their efforts so far have fallen short. Such stalwart free-market Republican House members as Jeff Flake of Arizona and Ron Paul of Texas support re-imports. So does pioneer supply-side economist Arthur Laffer.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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