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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 urge Amazon to investigate, recall 'defective' products Asbestos ban stalls in Congress amid partisan fight Pharma execs say FDA will not lower standards for coronavirus vaccine MORE (D-N.J.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealOvernight Health Care: Trump announces two moves aimed at lowering drug prices | Sturgis rally blamed for COVID-19 spread in Minnesota | Stanford faculty condemn Scott Atlas Trump announces two moves aimed at lowering drug prices IRS races to get remaining stimulus checks to low-income households 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 PelosiGovernors take heat for violating their own coronavirus restrictions Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz trade jabs over COVID-19 relief: People 'going hungry as you tweet from' vacation 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 PocanCapitol's COVID-19 spike could be bad Thanksgiving preview Katherine Clark secures No. 4 leadership spot for House Democrats Democrats to determine leaders after disappointing election 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 DoggettCongress must repeal tax breaks for the wealthy passed in CARES Act Ocasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts Trump order on drug prices faces long road to finish line 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.