WASHINGTON – The House voted Tuesday to allow Americans to buy prescription drugs (search) from Canada and other countries at prices lower than found in the United States, but the provision's prospects are dim to become law this year.
The measure, approved as part of a $16.8 billion bill to fund the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration (search) for next year, would prohibit the FDA from spending money to enforce its prohibition on imports of FDA-approved drugs.
A subcommittee put it into the bill last month at the instigation of Rep. Marcy Kaptur, (search) D-Ohio. The bill itself passed the House on Tuesday by a 389-31 vote.
Supporters said it would allow Americans safe access to medications at prices often one-third lower than those in the United States because of government price controls in other countries.
"People from all over the world come to the United States for their medical care, yet Americans are forced to go all over the world for their medication," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill. He said U.S. prices are kept artificially high by pharmaceutical companies.
The provision is not expected to remain in the final spending bill to be reconciled later by House and Senate negotiators, a Republican staff member said.
A nearly identical plan was passed by the House last year, only to be removed later in House-Senate negotiations.
That strategy would be used again, said Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, who chairs the House Appropriations agriculture subcommittee. "We'll just deal with it in conference," he said.
Senate advocates have been seeking an up-or-down, election-year vote on legalizing imports, which has growing bipartisan appeal in Congress despite the opposition of President Bush and Republican leaders in both Houses.
The White House budget office opposed the measure in a statement Tuesday. "It would be virtually impossible for the FDA to verify that drugs being imported are indeed FDA-approved and not counterfeit," the statement said.
It did not threaten a presidential veto, however, saying the administration supported the farm bill itself and would push later for changes as it moves through Congress.
As part of the bill, the House also voted to prohibit using government money for a $9.6 billion bailout for tobacco farmers. Just 10 days ago, the House approved the buyout as part of a broad corporate tax bill.
Rep. Robin Hayes, R-N.C., said he would attempt to get the roadblock on the tobacco buyout removed in the House-Senate negotiations on the bill.
The bill also blocks resumption of U.S.-financed export credits to help Iraq buy food from American farms. Kaptur, the Appropriations agriculture subcommittee's senior Democrat, questioned whether the United States could be sure the money would help feed Iraqis.
The bill also includes $20 million to pay for expansion of the department's surveillance for mad cow disease. The department plans to test at least 200,000 animals within 18 months. It tested about 20,000 last year.
The bill provides money for programs to encourage farmers to use environmentally friendly practices. It has $1 billion for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which offers farmers financial and technical help in land management.
Also, the measure includes $4.9 billion for the Women, Infants and Children feeding program, which targets low-income pregnant women and new mothers and their children up to their fifth birthday.