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 DoggettGreen says House shouldn't hold impeachment articles indefinitely Appeals court strikes ObamaCare mandate, sends case back to lower court House passes sweeping Pelosi bill to lower drug prices MORE (D-Texas) compared the process around Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats worry a speedy impeachment trial will shut out public Schiff huddles in Capitol with impeachment managers Media's selective outrage exposed in McSally-Raju kerfuffle 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 PaulMitch McConnell may win the impeachment and lose the Senate GOP threatens to weaponize impeachment witnesses amid standoff Paul predicts no Republicans will vote to convict Trump 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 PocanCongressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Jayapal endorses Sanders Sanders, Warren battle for progressive endorsements Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair endorses Sanders 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-CortezNYT editorial board endorses Warren, Klobuchar for Democratic nomination for president Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Jayapal endorses Sanders Sanders, Warren battle for progressive endorsements 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 JeffriesSchiff huddles in Capitol with impeachment managers Sunday shows - All eyes on Senate impeachment trial Jeffries: Calling new witnesses for Senate trial part of following the 'Clinton model' 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 poised to hand impeachment articles to Senate House to vote on Iran war powers bills sought by progressives Khanna: Timing of Iran bill being weighed against getting bigger majority 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 rails against impeachment in speech to Texas farmers Trump administration planning to crack down on 'birth tourism': report George Conway on Trump adding Dershowitz, Starr to legal team: 'Hard to see how either could help' 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 PalloneOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments Obstacles remain for deal on surprise medical bills This week: House impeachment inquiry hits crucial stretch MORE (D-N.J.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealConservative groups aim to sink bipartisan fix to 'surprise' medical bills Treasury watchdog to investigate Trump opportunity zone program House poised to hand impeachment articles to Senate 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 JayapalNYT editorial board endorses Warren, Klobuchar for Democratic nomination for president Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Jayapal endorses Sanders Sanders, Warren battle for progressive endorsements 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 SchraderGroup of Democrats floating censure of Trump instead of impeachment: report Democrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Krystal Ball: New Biden ad is everything that's wrong with Democrats 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.”