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 struggle with repeal of key Trump tax provision On The Money: Sanders unveils plan to wipe .6T in student debt | How Sanders plan plays in rivalry with Warren | Treasury watchdog to probe delay of Harriet Tubman bills | Trump says Fed 'blew it' on rate decision Democrats give Trump trade chief high marks MORE (D-Texas) compared the process around Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump knocks Democrats on 'Open Borders' The Hill's Morning Report - Democratic debates: Miami nice or spice? Democrats already jockeying for House leadership posts 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 PaulGOP lays debate trap for 2020 Democrats Overnight Defense: Trump says he doesn't need exit strategy with Iran | McConnell open to vote on Iran war authorization | Senate panel advances bill to restrict emergency arms sales Senate panel advances bill to restrict emergency arms sales 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 PocanWarren introduces universal child care legislation On The Money: DOJ offers legal opinion backing refusal to release Trump tax returns | Centrist Democrats raise concerns over minimum wage | Trump bashes Powell ahead of crucial Fed meeting | Design leaks for Harriet Tubman bill Centrist Democrats raise concerns over minimum wage push 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-CortezThe four House Democrats who voted against the border funding bill Conservative group launches ad calling on 2020 Democrats to name potential Supreme Court picks Ocasio-Cortez: It was easier to get elected to Congress than pay off student loan debt 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 JeffriesThe Hill's Morning Report - Democratic debates: Miami nice or spice? Democrats already jockeying for House leadership posts House Democrats close to finalizing border aid bill 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 HoyerDemocrats already jockeying for House leadership posts House Democratic leaders work to secure votes for border bill Hoyer: House won't move forward on congressional pay bump 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 John TrumpTrump campaign buys full page ads in Miami newspapers ahead of Dem debates Trump administration's 'forced diplomacy' with Iran isn't working Roy Moore trails Republican field in Alabama 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 PallonePressure builds to secure health care data Bipartisan House lawmakers announce compromise anti-robocall bill Key senators release bipartisan package to lower health care costs MORE (D-N.J.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealOn The Money: Powell asserts Fed's independence amid new Trump attacks | House approves 3 billion spending package | CBO projects 'unprecedented' debt levels by 2049 | Democrats struggle with Trump tax law provision Democrats struggle with repeal of key Trump tax provision Trump's tax returns — DOJ trying to put off the inevitable? 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 JayapalOcasio-Cortez: It was easier to get elected to Congress than pay off student loan debt House Democratic leaders work to secure votes for border bill Republican lawmaker: Plan to #CancelStudentDebt 'is immoral' 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 SchraderLiberals rip Democratic leaders for writing drug pricing bill in secret Dems walk Trump trade tightrope Lobbying World 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.”