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Liberals rip Democratic leaders for writing drug pricing bill in secret

Progressive House Democrats are growing increasingly frustrated with their party’s leadership, accusing them of writing Democrats’ signature bill to lower prescription drug prices in secret and without their input.

Rep. Lloyd DoggettLloyd Alton DoggettDemocrats see political winner in tax fight Progressives up pressure on Biden to back COVID vaccine patent waiver House passes bills providing citizenship path for Dreamers, farmworkers MORE (D-Texas) compared the process around Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiWhite House readies for Chauvin verdict House GOP's McClain responds to Pelosi calling her 'that woman' GOP struggles to rein in nativism MORE’s (D-Calif.) drug pricing measure to the secrecy surrounding the GOP’s ObamaCare repeal bill in 2017, when Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard Paul15 Senate Republicans pledge to oppose lifting earmark ban The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring Anti-Asian hate crimes bill overcomes first Senate hurdle MORE (R-Ky.) famously wheeled a photocopier across the Capitol in a dramatized search for the hidden legislation.

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Rep. Mark PocanMark William PocanNIH reverses Trump administration's ban on fetal tissue research NIH to make announcement on fetal tissue research policy amid Trump-era restrictions Biden defense budget criticized by Republicans, progressives alike MORE (D-Wis.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, likened Pelosi’s plan to the Loch Ness monster, saying it has been just as elusive.

At issue is a plan Pelosi’s office has been working on for months that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, a top priority for Democrats and one that the party stressed in its campaign last year to win back the House.

There is now an intense debate within the Democratic caucus over the details of that proposal, with the Progressive Caucus pushing for a bill authored by Doggett that it says is stronger because it would strip a company of its monopoly on a drug if the manufacturer refuses to agree to a reasonable price in Medicare negotiations.

Pelosi’s office is working on a different mechanism, one that progressives worry is too weak. Her approach would empower an outside third party to set the price of a drug if Medicare and the drug company could not come to an agreement.

Progressive lawmakers argue they cannot properly weigh in on Pelosi’s plan because they have not seen anything on paper. After months of rumors, Pelosi presented an outline of the plan two weeks ago in a private meeting that included Pocan, but did not provide a hard copy of the proposal.

Asked on Tuesday if he thought leadership’s process had been open enough, Pocan told reporters, “There has been no process up to now.”

That same day, Doggett told reporters, “We have a great history with Republicans where they locked up their health care plan so that even Rand Paul couldn’t see it, and they held their tax plan to the last minute, so if there is to be good collaboration here there needs to be more openness.”

Pocan, Doggett and other progressives say they have come up empty in their attempts to get more details from leadership.

Democratic leaders will likely need progressives to help pass a drug pricing bill if it eventually comes to the floor, but liberal lawmakers say they can’t pledge support for legislative text they haven’t seen.

When asked about the complaints from progressives, Henry Connelly, a Pelosi spokesman, said party leaders are still in the process of gathering input from members.

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“Leadership and the committees of jurisdiction continue to solicit feedback and incorporate ideas from across the caucus in order to develop the strongest, boldest possible legislation to lower prescription drug prices for all Americans,” Connelly said.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOvernight Energy: Treasury creates hub to fight climate change through finance | Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez introduce 'Green New Deal for Public Housing' | White House defends 'aspirational' goal of 62,500 refugees Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez introduce 'Green New Deal for Public Housing' MORE (D-N.Y.), a champion for progressives, told reporters on Wednesday it’s a problem that “most members,” including her, do not know the details of Pelosi’s drug pricing plan.

“That’s a problem and it’s part of a pattern, I think, where we don’t know things until 48 hours before. And then it’s like, ‘You’re either with us or you’re against us,’ ” Ocasio-Cortez said.

In a sign of their frustration, both Doggett and Pocan showed up at a meeting organized by House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesRace debate grips Congress Cheney: Afghanistan withdrawal a 'huge propaganda victory' for terrorists Democrats vow to go 'bold' — with or without GOP MORE (N.Y.) on Tuesday that was intended to help get newer Democratic lawmakers up to speed on drug pricing. The two veteran lawmakers later expressed frustration to reporters after no new details of leadership’s plan were revealed at the briefing.

Pocan said he delivered a warning in the meeting that leadership should not try to move a drug pricing bill in the next week or two without waiting to get input from progressives.

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse Republicans ask Pelosi to reschedule Biden's address to Congress This week: Democrats move on DC statehood Democrats debate timing and wisdom of reparations vote MORE (D-Md.) told reporters on Tuesday that the chamber is occupied with appropriations for June, but that “we’ll see whether by July we’re ready to deal with prescription drugs.”

Adding to progressives’ concerns is the fact that Pelosi’s staff has been in talks with White House staffers for months on drug pricing. Progressives are worried that Pelosi will water down her plan in an effort to secure a rare bipartisan deal with President TrumpDonald TrumpHouse votes to condemn Chinese government over Hong Kong Former Vice President Walter Mondale dies at age 93 White House readies for Chauvin verdict MORE.

The Speaker’s office has emphasized that the House will move forward on drug pricing no matter what ends up happening with the administration talks.

The parts of Pelosi’s plan outlined so far have drawn concerns from progressives.

Pocan called it “horrendous” that her proposal would not require Medicare to negotiate prices for all drugs, but instead set a minimum of 25 drugs per year where prices had to be negotiated. He added that there are some good parts to the plan, namely that the mandated lower prices would apply to people with private insurance plans, not just Medicare.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneIntercept bureau chief: Democrats dropping support of Medicare for All could threaten bill's momentum House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 House Democrats criticize Texas's 'shortcomings in preparations' on winter storms MORE (D-N.J.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealTrump lawyers argue NY tax return law no longer applies to him Democrats offer competing tax ideas on Biden infrastructure Top Democrat calling for expansion of child care support MORE (D-Mass.) have been on a “listening tour” this year, meeting with groups of House Democrats across the ideological spectrum on drug prices.

But some lawmakers say those meetings have been nothing more than general discussions of different options, without providing details of Pelosi’s plan.

“We are going to talk to the Speaker and make it clear that we really need to see the proposal,” said Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalBiden angers Democrats by keeping Trump-era refugee cap Omar: 'Shameful' Biden reneging on refugee promise Biden rebuffs Democrats, keeps refugee admissions at 15,000 MORE (D-Wash.), noting that she discussed the issue with other Progressive Caucus leaders on Wednesday morning.

On the other side of the caucus, Rep. Kurt SchraderWalter (Kurt) Kurt SchraderBlue Dogs push House leadership to allow more member input Democratic majority shrinks, but finds unity Biden on precipice of first big win MORE (Ore.), a member of the moderate Blue Dog Democrats who helps lead the group’s work on health care issues, said, “No, not really,” when asked if he knew the details of Pelosi’s proposal.

“It’s one of three or so different alternatives that’s out there,” Schrader said. “It’s probably going to end up as the preferred alternative, because she’s the Speaker.”