Medicare Prescription Drug Bill Vote Scandal, 2003

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The Medicare Prescription Drug Bill Vote Scandal, 2003 began to unfold in December 2003. Major journalistic investigation and reporting on this issue came from Timothy Noah for Slate (MSN).

On June 23, 2004, Public Citizen released a study noting that:

Drug Industry and HMOs Deployed an Army of Nearly 1,000 Lobbyists to Push Medicare Bill
Special Interests Spent $141 Million in 2003, Hired 431 Lobbyists With "Revolving Door" Connections to Congress and the White House
"The revolving door between the White House and K Street has made the Bush administration indistinguishable from the industry," said Craig Aaron, senior researcher for Public Citizen's Congress Watch and lead author of the report.
"If it wasn't bad enough that most of the key negotiators working on the Medicare bill were preparing to cash in on K Street as soon as it passed, Bush has brought in more drug industry and HMO insiders to implement and promote this disastrous new law."

Related SourceWatch Resources

External links


  • Rep. Nick Smith, Press Release: "Smith Opposes Medicare Bill," Official U.S. House of Representatives website, November 22, 2003.
  • Rep. Nick Smith, Press Release: "A Medicare Showdown," Official House website, November 23, 2003.
  • David S. Broder, "Time Was GOP's Ally On the Vote," Washington Post, November 23, 2003: "... Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, who had been working the Capitol all day, defied custom and moved onto the House floor. He and Dennis Hastert avoided the back rows where many of the conservatives were clustered, and targeted 'no' voters such as Reps. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) and Nick Smith (R-Mich.), who were standing or sitting alone. ... The broad-shouldered speaker, moving through the crowded aisles like a fullback, plumped down next to Smith, who is retiring next year after 40 years in a succession of public offices. Hastert threw an arm around Smith's shoulder and leaned in as Thompson moved into the seat on the other side. Aides recounted that Hastert said Smith's help was vital to the party and the president -- a fitting gift at the end of a long career -- and suggested it would also help Smith's son, who plans to run for the seat. ... But the former dairy farmer, a budget hawk, waved his hands as if in dismissal and told Hastert that his son had advised him, 'Do what is right.' He was unmoved -- and remained so as Hastert and other legislators returned often to plead the case."
  • Rep. Nick Smith, Press Release: "Smith Plays Key Role in Medicare Debate. Resists Intense Pressure to Vote for Medicare Bill," Official House website, November 24, 2003.
  • "Prescription Drugs and the Fight to Save Medicare. GOP leaders threaten Smith's son's campaign over Medicare vote," Associated Press (, November 24, 2003: "In an effort to convince Rep. Nick Smith to vote for a Medicare reform bill, House GOP leaders threatened to support candidates running against Smith's son for Congress next year, Smith said Monday. ... 'This was the most intense and strongest pressure to change my vote that I've ever experienced,' said Smith, R-Addison, who was the only Michigan Republican to vote against the bill on Saturday. The bill passed the House 220-215. ... A spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert denied there were threats made."
  • Robert Novak, "GOP pulled no punches in struggle for Medicare bill," Chicago Sun Times, November 27, 2003.
  • Mike Allen, "Bush Celebrates Medicare Victory. Next on Agenda: Malpractice-Suit Curbs," Washington Post, November 25, 2003.
  • Rep. Nick Smith, Commentary: "Going toe-to-toe on Medicare,", November 28, 2003: "I was targeted by lobbyists and the congressional leadership to change my vote, being a fiscal conservative and being on record as a 'no' vote. ... Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert talked to me for a long time about the bill and about why I should vote yes. ... Other members and groups made offers of extensive financial campaign support and endorsements for my son, Brad, who is running for my seat. They also made threats of working against Brad if I voted no. ... I told all those urging a yes vote the same thing: This bill will lead to explosive new costs and huge unfunded liabilities that will unfairly burden future generations."
  • Timothy Noah, "Who Tried To Bribe Rep. Smith? Stop protecting him, Congressman," Slate, December 1, 2003: Smith "says that sometime late Nov. 21 or early in the morning Nov. 22, somebody on the House floor threatened to redirect campaign funds away from his son Brad, who is running to succeed him, if he didn't support the Medicare prescription bill."
  • Press Release: "Watchdog Group Urges Ashcroft, House Ethics to Investigate Bribery Attempt in House Vote," Campaign Legal Center, December 3, 2003.
  • William M. Welch and Andrea Stone, "Dems want inquiry into reports of Medicare bribe," USA TODAY, December 4, 2003: Letters were submitted to Attorney General John Ashcroft by "...Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe (DNC letter)... [and] Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a non-partisan legal watchdog group, ....'The attempted bribery and extortion of a member of Congress on the House floor destroys the heart of our democracy,'" Sloan wrote. "'Not only was this bribe offered to a member of Congress, it was offered on the floor of the House of Representatives by another member of Congress'...."
  • Rep. Nick Smith, Press Release: "Smith Comments on Allegations Surrounding Medicare Vote," Official House website, December 2004.
  • Timothy Noah, "Nick Smith Recants. Did the pressure get to him?" Slate, December 5, 2003: "It was laudably brave for Smith to go public about illegal behavior he witnessed on the House floor. But it's brought him nothing but grief. That surely explains Smith's apparent decision to change his story. But it doesn't excuse it."
  • Editorial: "Politics or Bribe? Smith stood tall with his vote; he should now tell all," Detroit Free Press, December 5, 2003.
  • Katherine Hutt Scott, "Rep. Smith backpedals on claims of vote bribery. 'No specific reference was made to money,' he says," Lansing State Journal (Michigan), December 5, 2003: "But in a statement Thursday, Nick Smith said, 'No specific reference was made to money.' ... Smith did vote against the bill, which has since passed the House and the Senate and is awaiting President Bush's signature. Smith has not identified who made the offer. ... Smith's chief of staff, Kurt Schmautz, said Smith told him Novak's [November 27, 2003] account was 'basically accurate.'"
  • Washington Brief: "Official Backs Colleagues," Washington Post, December 5, 2003: Smith "said unnamed House colleagues had told him that 'interested groups' might help his son's congressional campaign if the lawmaker would vote for Medicare legislation that faced a showdown vote Nov. 22. But no one offered financial assistance, he said, despite news accounts to the contrary. 'I believe no member violated any ethical rule in this episode,' he said. ... Smith, who plans to retire from Congress next year, was the subject of intense pleas from GOP colleagues to vote for the Medicare bill in last month's dramatic pre-dawn roll call. He refused, and some lawmakers reportedly said the decision could hurt his son Brad's hopes of succeeding his father. ... Columnist Robert D. Novak reported last week that Nick Smith was told on the House floor that 'business interests' would give his son's campaign $100,000 if the father voted for the Medicare plan. In his statement, issued Wednesday, Rep. Smith said: 'I want to make clear that no member of Congress made an offer of financial assistance for my son's campaign in exchange for my vote on the Medicare bill. I was told that my vote could result in interested groups giving substantial and aggressive campaign 'support' and 'endorsements.' No specific reference was made to money.' Smith's statement did not name names."
  • "Was Nick Smith offered a bribe?" (Battle Creek, Michigan), December 5, 2003: Smith, "who represents the Battle Creek area, said he was offered a bribe by congressional leaders in exchange for his vote on the controversial Medicare bill that passed last month. Now, he's changing his story. ... Yesterday Rep. Smith issued a statement. In it he says he never said money was offered in exchange for a vote. But we have a taped conversation between Rep.Smith and a local radio station that tells a very different story."
  • Elaine S. Povich, "Feds Probe Bribe Charge. Group: GOP congressman offered $100G for Medicare vote," Newsday, December 5, 2003: "The Justice Department will look into a charge that a Republican congressman was offered a bribe in exchange for his vote on the Medicare prescription drug bill that squeaked through the House last month, a department official said yesterday. ... The Campaign Legal Center, a public interest group headed by former Federal Election Commission Chairman Trevor Potter, requested the federal probe. The group also asked the House ethics committee to look into the allegation that Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.) was offered $100,000 for his son's political campaign in exchange for his vote. Smith, who is retiring, voted against the bill, which passed after an unprecedented three-hour roll call during which Republican leaders twisted the arms of recalcitrant Republicans until enough changed sides to eke out a five-vote victory, 220-215."
  • Carl Hulse, "Fight to Pass Medicare Measure Raised House Speaker's Profile" (abstract), New York Times, December 6, 2003: "Since his sudden rise to House speaker in 1999, J. Dennis Hastert has rarely been mentioned in the same breath as Congressional powerbrokers of the past. Yet in the hours before dawn on Nov. 22, Mr. Hastert was working the House floor the way Lyndon B. Johnson once managed the...."
  • Timothy Noah, "Why Smith Can't Recant. They've got him on tape," Slate, December 6, 2003: "A taped interview with a Kalamazoo, Mich. radio station virtually proves that Rep. Nick Smith, R-Mich., has morphed from a whistleblower into an uncooperative witness in a potential bribery investigation." Read interview transcript at end of article.
  • Robert Novak, Transcript: "CNN CAPITAL GANG", CNN, December 6, 2003. (See middle of transcript for info regarding Nick Smith and the vote.)
  • Thomas Ferraro, "US House ethics chair comments on 'bribery' claim," Reuters AlertNet, December 8, 2003: "The chairman of the House of Representatives ethics committee said on Monday it would be 'appropriate' to examine a Republican congressman's now-dropped assertion that bribes were offered to win passage of the Medicare prescription drug bill. ... The chairman, Rep. Joel Hefley, a Colorado Republican, declined to say if his panel had already begun such an inquiry or if it planned one. ... But Hefley told reporters, 'It's certainly an appropriate one for the ethics committee to look into.' He added that if a member is found to have offered a bribe he could be censured or even expelled from Congress."
  • Timothy Noah, "A Drug-Company Bribe? The Medicare vote scandal, continued," Slate, December 8, 2003: "Here's how Smith described the offer of money .... 'The first offer I got was from the pharmaceutical business groups that are pushing for this bill, an offer of substantial campaign support for my son Brad in his run for Congress.'"
  • R. Jeffrey Smith, "GOP's Pressing Question on Medicare Vote. Did Some Go Too Far To Change a No to a Yes?" Washington Post, December 23, 2003: "About 20 Republican congressmen -- all fiscal conservatives -- gathered nervously in a back room at the Hunan Dynasty restaurant on Capitol Hill on Nov. 21, trying to shore up their resolve to defy President Bush. ...But the most dramatic account was given by Rep. Nick Smith (Mich.), who is to retire next year and hopes his son will succeed him. According to two other congressmen who were present, Smith told the gathering that House Republican leaders had promised substantial financial and political support for his son's campaign if Smith voted yes. Smith added that his son, in a telephone call, had urged him to vote his conscience, and with the support of dissident colleagues, Smith stuck to his no vote. ... The matter might have ended there had Smith not written his account in a Michigan newspaper column, adding an allegation involving threats of retaliation against his son's campaign if he voted no. Since then, he has declined to specify who might have pressured him, but his complaints have prompted outrage among Democrats and consternation among some Republican colleagues."
  • Timothy Noah, "Now It's a Scandal. New evidence that a House GOP leader offered a bribe," Slate, December 23, 2003: According to the Washington Post, "Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.), who was present at the dinner, recalled Smith saying it was 'people from leadership' who had offered the money. He said Smith did not say who it was, but he assumed it was someone who controlled a 'large leadership PAC, who can raise a hundred thousand dollars by hosting a few fundraisers.' ... 'I think something happened,' Gutknecht said. 'If it happened, then somebody in the leadership is guilty of at least gross stupidity. ... Whoever made that comment should resign.'"