Democratic senators press PhRMA over COVID-19 lobbying efforts 

Democratic senators press PhRMA over COVID-19 lobbying efforts 
© Greg Nash

Democratic senators are pressing the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) to provide more information about its lobbying efforts amid the pandemic.

In a letter to PhRMA CEO Stephen Ubl, Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenCalifornia Democrats warn of low turnout in recall election Pelosi disputes Biden's power to forgive student loans Warren hits the airwaves for Newsom ahead of recall election MORE (D-Mass.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Angst grips America's most liberal city Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire MORE (I-Vt.), Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseLobbying world Kavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law Christine Blasey Ford's lawyers blast FBI's Kavanaugh investigation as 'sham' MORE (D-R.I.) and Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinManaging the US dollar to pay for congressional infrastructure plans Duckworth, Pressley introduce bill to provide paid family leave for those who experience miscarriage Senate Democrats call for Medicaid-like plan to cover non-expansion states MORE (D-Wis.) asked the trade group and its member companies to disclose their lobbying spending to oppose a measure to waive intellectual property projections on COVID-19 vaccines.

The lawmakers also asked for specifics on the pharmaceutical industry’s efforts to oppose Democratic legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate the price of prescription drugs.

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“While taking credit for the development of new COVID vaccines – which were developed with massive infusions of federal funds - the pharmaceutical industry has not backed off of its efforts to block drug pricing proposals and maintain the status quo,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter sent Wednesday.

Drugmakers have renewed clout in Washington after successfully manufacturing lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines. But progressives criticized pharmaceutical firms such as Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson for lobbying against a waiver meant to allow lower-income nations to manufacture their own doses.

The Biden administration last month said it would back the waiver in negotiations with the World Trade Organization. PhRMA’s Ubl blasted the decision, saying it would “sow confusion between public and private partners, further weaken already strained supply chains and foster the proliferation of counterfeit vaccines."

The pharmaceutical industry spends more on lobbying than any other industry, according to OpenSecrets.org. Drugmakers spent $92 million through the first three months of 2021. PhRMA was the industry’s top lobbying spender, shelling out nearly $9 million.

The lawmakers’ letter asks PhRMA and its member companies to disclose their lobbying spending on each specific issue, and report how many lobbyists were part of the effort. That level of detail typically isn’t disclosed in lobbying filings.

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“We are reviewing the letter, and we will continue our efforts to work with policymakers on solutions to lower what patients pay out of pocket for prescription medicines and ensure equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines," PhRMA spokesperson Brian Newell said in a statement.

News of the letter was first reported by CNBC.

Last week, President BidenJoe BidenThe Supreme Court and blind partisanship ended the illusion of independent agencies Missed debt ceiling deadline kicks off high-stakes fight Senate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session MORE announced the U.S. would donate 500 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine to lower-income countries. Officials are stressing the need for worldwide vaccinations to fight a deadly COVID-19 variant that has already reached 74 countries and continues to spread.

The vaccine rollout has highlighted worldwide health disparities. Last week, the World Health Organization said just 2 percent of people in Africa have received one dose, compared to 52 percent in the U.S.