It was the fourth such measure defeated after two weeks of debate in the Senate. Both parties had made prescription drugs for the elderly major party issues.
Lawmakers said that the partisan divisions may mean that elderly people may have quite a time to wait before they get the benefits promised to them, the New York Times reports. While both parties acknowledged that they will be held accountable for the failure by their constituencies, each party placed the blame on the other for the failure.
Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., said, "Both parties will pay a steep price at the polls."
The defeat of the measure may prove especially damaging for the Democrats, who control the Senate and initially planned to campaign as champions of Medicare drug benefits in the upcoming elections. Last month the Republican-controlled House voted to pass a bill to provide the elderly with Medicare drug benefits through private insurance companies, the Times reports.
But the Senate Democrats say they have not given up hope. "We will be back next month, next year and the year after - as long as it takes until every senior citizen has the comprehensive benefit they deserve," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., told the Times.
No consensus could be reached in the Senate on how much to spend, what the benefits would entail or how to balance the roles of government and private business in running the program.
But while the Medicare drug plan failed, the Senate voted 78 to 21 to pass a generic drug bill. The bill will make it easier for Americans to gain access to low-cost generic drugs by making it more difficult for drug companies to delay the approval of the generic counterparts to their products.
According to the Times, twenty-eight Republicans, 49 Democrats and one independent voted for the generic drug measure.
"The onus is now on the House to act in a similarly bipartisan way," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, said.
Alan F. Holmer, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, who led lobbying against the generic drug bill, said it would not produce significant savings for consumers, but would discourage innovation by reducing the economic incentives for drug research, according to the Times.
While House Republican leaders announced that they would consider introducing the generic drug legislation on the House floor after the August recess, there were no plans to make an attempt to reconcile the House Medicare bill and the Senate generic drug bill.
Senate voted 50 to 49 against a bill to provide prescription drug benefits promised to the elderly, falling far short of the 60 votes needed to pass the measure.