WASHINGTON DC - As the U.S. Senate convened for the 110th Congress, U.S. Senator Herb Kohl was sworn in for his fourth term and introduced several bills related to his priorities for the new session of Congress. Kohl will serve on the Appropriations and Judiciary Committees and will be Chairman of the Special Committee on Aging; he will also become chairman of the Agriculture Appropriations panel and the Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights panel.
“I look forward to the new session and the opportunity it brings to get things done on behalf of the people who sent me here,” Kohl said. “There are a lot of challenging issues before us, and I’m fortunate that my assignments in the Senate intersect with some of my top legislative priorities.”
Among the first bills Kohl will introduce in the 110th Congress:
· Preserve Access to Affordable Generics Act: Kohl’s bill will explicitly prohibit brand-name drug manufacturers from using pay-off agreements to keep cheaper generic equivalents off the market. Payoff settlements occur when a brand name drug company pays a generic drug maker to delay the sale of their competing generic drug. Last year, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) joined Kohl in sponsoring this bill which was introduced in the wake of the Supreme Court refusal to hear the drug patent case, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) v. Schering-Plough.
· Citizen Petition Fairness and Accuracy Act: In an effort to increase generic drug availability, Kohl’s legislation will prohibit brand name drug companies from abusing the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) “citizen petition” review process. The bill gives the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) - the FDA’s parent agency - the power to sanction those who abuse the citizen petition process, or who file citizen petitions simply to keep competition off the market. The bill also instructs HHS that all citizen petitions be reviewed within six months of filing - putting an end to excessive delays which have stalled new generic drug approval by months or years.
· Generics First Act: Kohl’s “Generics First Act” requires the use of available generic drugs under the Medicare part D prescription drug program, unless the brand name drug is determined to be medically necessary by a physician. Modeled after similar provisions in many state-administered Medicaid programs, this measure would help reduce the high costs of the new prescription drug program and keep seniors from reaching the current “donut hole” in coverage by guiding beneficiaries toward cost-saving generic drug alternatives.
· Extension of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program (MEP). Kohl’s bill will establish funding for the MEP program for five years. MEP is a network of over 60 centers across the country that provide assistance to small manufacturers and help retain manufacturing jobs. Wisconsin is the home to two MEP centers. Since 1996, Wisconsin MEP has helped over 1,300 Wisconsin manufacturers make nearly $400 million in improvements in technology, productivity and profits. Last year Kohl led a bipartisan group of Senators in the fight to fund the MEP program at $106 million after the Administration proposed a drastic cut to $39 million for FY2006.
Kohl will also meet next week with the new Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, to discuss the FDA’s ability to ensure a safe food supply. In December, Kohl sent a letter to von Eschenbach requesting the meeting to discuss his agency’s future plans to control outbreaks of E. coli and other foodborne diseases. Kohl’s Agriculture Appropriations panel has jurisdiction over the FDA’s budget.
Kohl also said he will work this year to include an extension of the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program as part of the 2007 Farm Bill. Kohl helped create this counter-cyclical support program that provides a critical safety net for America’s dairy farmers in the 2002 Farm Bill. When dairy prices reached 25-year lows in 2002 and the first half of 2003, the MILC program provided dairy producers with much needed assistance and helped stemmed the tide of losses that dairy farmers had experienced in previous periods of downturn. Wisconsin farmers received $413 million during that period.