LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
As we heard earlier in the show, Congress left for the summer without a deal on revamping health care. One of the many issues still to be worked out involves prescription drugs. Earlier this summer the Obama administration blessed a deal between senators and the prescription drug industry to cut drug costs by $80 billion. Now, the House wants to cut even more and the administration is siding with the drug makers - sort of. NPR's Julie Rovner has more.
JULIE ROVNER: As the Senate heads out to join the House for August recess the fate of the health care bill is, well, a muddle. All three House committees have completed their work on a bill, but those products must be merged before a floor vote can be scheduled in September.
In the Senate, one committee has produced a bill, but six members of the pivotal finance panel remain mired in negotiations. Yesterday they met with President Obama to give him an update on their work.
Meanwhile, a new spat has broken out. It involves a deal cut by the finance committee and PhRMA, the trade group that represents prescription drug makers. PhRMA agreed to discount drugs for some seniors on Medicare by up to $80 billion over the next decade. In exchange, Congress wouldn't ask anymore of the drug industry in the health overhaul bill. But House members say they're not bound by that deal and felt free to extract deeper cuts. Democrat Henry Waxman is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Representative HENRY WAXMAN (Democrat, California): This was a deal between the drug companies and the Senate Finance Committee chairman and the White House. We in the House, however, believe that if we're buying drugs for millions of Medicare beneficiaries why shouldn't the government insist on a better price? Why should we pay whatever the drug companies want?
ROVNER: PhRMA cried foul at the House's additional cuts. And the White House yesterday reiterated that it stands behind its deal with the industry and the Senate. But Waxman says he's not that worried. He also noted that the White House says it wants a government sponsored public option for people to choose.
Rep. WAXMAN: Well, that doesn't seem to be keeping a lot of members of the Senate from trying to do something instead of the public option. If they're not bound, we're not bound. We'll take our positions and then we'll see where everybody is in conference.
ROVNER: And it's not clear just how committed the White House is to its own position. When asked to comment on the House's demand for additional cuts from the drug industry, here's what White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said.
Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Press Secretary): I think that everybody shares the goal of cutting costs of health care, but beyond that I don't have anything specific.
ROVNER: In other words, at this point the White House, the drug industry, the House and the Senate would all just like to get bills through the House and the Senate and have the luxury of arguing how big the cuts should be then.
Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.
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