updated 8/19/2004 9:35:30 AM ET 2004-08-19T13:35:30

President Bush said Wednesday that pressure is building in Congress to allow lower-priced drugs to be imported from Canada and elsewhere but that it’s still unclear whether it would be safe.

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“What I don’t want to do is be the president that says we’ll allow for importation, and all of a sudden drugs that are manufactured somewhere else come in over the Internet and it begins to harm our citizens,” Bush said at a campaign event held at a park here along the St. Croix River.

People on both sides of the issue say there is growing, bipartisan support in the House and Senate to make it legal for drugs to be imported, but Republican leaders have not allowed a vote so far this year.

“I’m looking at this,” Bush told supporters. “There’s a lot of pressure in Congress for importation.”

An administration study group also is examining the issue.

Phil Singer, a spokesman for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, said Bush could and should act.

“Millions of Americans could have this relief tomorrow if George Bush would just give the word, considering that he’s done more for the drug companies than he has for seniors,” Singer said.

In May, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said he would advise Bush not to stand in the way of an importation bill, but the president has said little on the subject.

That decision would play well in the northern battleground states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan where busloads of people regularly thumb their noses at the law and travel north of the border to fill their prescriptions.

Bush said government has an obligation to ensure public safety.

“If it’s safe, then it makes sense,” he said.

“But again, I repeat to you, I have an obligation for the safety of our citizens,” Bush said. “What I don’t want is somebody to say ‘Oh gosh, I’d be able to buy a cheaper drug from Canada’ and (then) that drug ends up coming from another country without proper inspection and proper safety.”

Federal law allows for drug imports, but only if the HHS secretary certifies their safety. Democratic and Republican administrations have refused to do so.

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