Progressives push House chairmen to go bolder on drug pricing

Progressives push House chairmen to go bolder on drug pricing
© Greg Nash

Progressive House Democrats pushed two powerful committee chairmen on Tuesday to go bolder on legislation aimed at lowering drug prices.

During a meeting, the Congressional Progressive Caucus urged House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneHouse Democrats ramp up probe of FDA approval of Alzheimer's drug Intercept bureau chief: Democrats dropping support of Medicare for All could threaten bill's momentum House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 MORE (D-N.J.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealDemocrats confront 'Rubik's cube on steroids' Biden pushes back at Democrats on taxes Want a clean energy future? Look to the tax code MORE (D-Mass.) to support a far-reaching drug pricing bill that would allow the government to strip drug companies of their monopolies if they refuse to sell drugs at a reasonable price.

The progressives also pushed back on a competing proposal under discussion that would allow an outside arbiter to help set drug prices, warning that the idea would be too weak.

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The meeting comes as House Democrats try to bridge a divide that has opened up within the party on the best way to move forward on lowering drug prices, one of their signature issues.

Lawmakers said the chairmen listened during the meeting and expressed openness to different ideas while not offering a plan of their own.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan Manchin: Biden told moderates to pitch price tag for reconciliation bill On The Money — Democrats rush to finish off infrastructure MORE's (D-Calif.) office is working on a drug-pricing proposal that would use arbitration, though lawmakers leaving the meeting Tuesday did not mention the Democratic leader when criticizing the arbitration idea.

Progressive Caucus leaders said a bill using arbitration — instead of the stronger mechanism of stripping monopolies — could lose many of their votes.

"There are members in our caucus who, if it comes out to be a weak arbitration bill that doesn't include a comprehensive list of drugs, I would have a hard time seeing something like that personally, as well as many other members," Rep. Mark PocanMark William PocanOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Defense bill takes center stage WHIP LIST: How House Democrats say they'll vote on infrastructure bill Biden seeks to build Democratic support among unions MORE (D-Wis.), co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, said after the meeting.

Neal did not rule out the stronger bill that the progressives want, which is sponsored by Rep. Lloyd DoggettLloyd Alton DoggettLIVE COVERAGE: Tax hikes take center stage in Ways and Means markup American workers need us to get this pandemic under control around the world Biden attempts to turn page on Afghanistan with domestic refocus MORE (D-Texas), when leaving the meeting.

Asked about that bill, Neal said, "All of these will be parts of the conversation, yeah, and I think the conversation is going to continue."

Asked if he is wedded to the idea of using an outside arbiter to set drug prices, Neal simply said, "No."

Doggett said leaving the meeting that it was a positive discussion and said he appreciated that the chairmen were not ruling out ideas.

"I don't view arbitration as really negotiation, it is just a way of shifting responsibility to an unaccountable third party," Doggett said.