President BidenJoe BidenHaiti prime minister warns inequality will cause migration to continue Pelosi: House must pass 3 major pieces of spending legislation this week Erdoğan says Turkey plans to buy another Russian defense system MORE on Thursday called on Congress to act to lower the "outrageously" high price of prescription drugs as lawmakers prepare to press forward on the issue.
The presidential backing comes ahead of what is sure to be an intense fight with pharmaceutical companies and Republicans on the issue, with Democrats looking to include drug pricing measures in their coming $3.5 trillion budget package.
"Prescription drug prices are outrageously expensive in America," Biden said in remarks at the White House, calling on Congress to allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices.
"I look forward to Congress getting this done," he added. "This is another area we can come together and make a difference in people's lives."
Biden outlined policies that largely match what Democrats in Congress are working on. He said Medicare should be able to negotiate lower prices, and those prices should apply to people with private insurance through their jobs as well, not just people on Medicare.
He also appeared to back a feature of House Democrats' legislation that would impose a steep tax of up to 95 percent if drug companies refused to come to the table and negotiate.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOn The Money — House pushes toward infrastructure vote Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — EU calls out Russian hacking efforts aimed at member states Why Democrats opposing Biden's tax plan have it wrong MORE (D-Ore.) is working on his own drug pricing legislation, which is expected to be somewhat less far-reaching than the House bill, in a bid to keep moderate Senate Democrats on board, given that Democrats cannot lose a single vote in the Senate.
There had been some doubts as to Biden's commitment to drug pricing earlier this year when he left it out of his American Families Plan, but the speech on Thursday provided a new jolt of energy to the issue.
Alex Lawson, executive director of the progressive group Social Security Works, used it to warn moderate Democrats not to try to hinder the effort.
"Any Democrat who tries to block or water down drug pricing reform is betraying President Biden and his agenda," Lawson said in a statement ahead of Biden's speech. "Worse, they are betraying the American people.”
Senate Democrats said earlier this week that they expected to get "hundreds of billions" in drug pricing savings to help pay for their package, but the exact amount is unclear, in part depending on negotiations among Senate Democrats.
The specifics of Wyden's legislation remain to be seen, though he has endorsed negotiation in broad terms as well.
Illustrating the fight ahead, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a powerful lobbying group, quickly blasted Biden's remarks on Thursday.
"Unfortunately, the policies the president outlined today would undermine access to life-saving medicines and fails to address an insurance system that shifts the cost of treatments onto vulnerable patients," said PhRMA CEO Steve Ubl. "Many in Congress know that access to medicine is critical for millions of patients and Medicare is not a piggy bank to be raided to fund other, unrelated government programs."
Biden pointed to surveys showing 1 in 4 Americans taking prescription drugs struggle to afford them.
"These prices have put the squeeze on too many families and stripped them of their dignity," he said.
Biden did note that drug companies have received some goodwill and deserve praise for developing COVID-19 vaccines.
But he added: "We can make a distinction between developing these breakthroughs and jacking up prices on a range of medications for a range of everyday diseases and conditions."