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 PalloneHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Overnight Energy: USDA expected to lose two-thirds of research staff in move west | EPA hails Trump's work on reducing air pollution | Agency eyes reducing inspections of nuclear reactors Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp MORE (D-N.J.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealDemocrat: Treasury 'acknowledged the unprecedented process' in Trump tax return rejection House votes to repeal ObamaCare's 'Cadillac tax' Finish the work of building a renewable fuels industry 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 PelosiDemocrats should rise above and unify against Trump's tweets 10 questions for Robert Mueller Ocasio-Cortez tears into Trump's immigration agenda: 'It's about ethnicity and racism' 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 PocanHouse Democrats delete tweets attacking each other, pledge to unify The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment 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 DoggettHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Speaker Pelosi, seize the moment to make history on drug pricing House Democrats sue Treasury to turn over Trump tax returns 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.