Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe and several legal watchdog groups have requested the U.S. Justice Department to investigate whether Republican House leaders bribed Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.) to try secure his vote for the Medicare reform package, which cleared the House by a 220-215 vote last month, USA Today reports. Smith, who voted against the bill, says Republican leaders offered to give money to his son's upcoming House campaign--Brad Smith is running to fill the seat his father is retiring from in January--if he voted for the measure. Federal laws allow people to verbally try to influence congressional votes but prohibit the offer of something of value in exchange for a vote. The Campaign Legal Center and the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics have joined the DNC in filing complaints with the Justice Department concerning the alleged bribe. "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," McAuliffe told USA Today. The Justice Department will review the complaints, spokesperson Mark Corallo said on Thursday.
The Medicare overhaul bill also was approved 54-44 by the Senate and is expected to be signed into law by President Bush at a White House ceremony on Monday. Although the bill includes a new prescription drug benefit for 40 million older and disabled Americans, AIDS activists say it could be disastrous for HIV-positive Medicare enrollees. Because Medicare provides only direct medical services, many low-income HIV-positive people in the Medicare program receive their anti-HIV medications through Medicaid, making them dually eligible for both government programs. But the bill limits dually eligible program participants to only two medications in any one drug class, a potentially deadly restriction for HIV-positive people who take three or more drugs as part of combination therapy to treat HIV infection. "The current bill will actually do harm by reducing access to medications that low-income people need to survive," said AIDS Project Los Angeles executive director Craig Thompson. "And we are not talking about just a few people. Approximately 38% of APLA's 10,000 registered clients are eligible for Medicare."