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 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 NealWyden, Mnuchin clash over Trump tax returns, Hunter Biden probe Overnight Health Care: House panel advances legislation on surprise medical bills | Planned Parenthood, ACLU sue over Trump abortion coverage rule | CDC identifies 13th US patient with coronavirus White House warns of raising health costs in debate over surprise medical bills 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 PelosiBloomberg faces criticism for tweet showing altered debate moment Trump knocks Democrats at rally: Bloomberg 'getting pounded' Biden earns endorsement from former House impeachment manager 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 PocanDemocrats call on Pompeo to restore funding to Gaza USDA takes heat as Democrats seek probe into trade aid 2020 Democratic hopefuls focus on Iowa while making final pitches 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 DoggettPelosi trashes Trump address: 'He shredded the truth, so I shredded his speech' Green says House shouldn't hold impeachment articles indefinitely Appeals court strikes ObamaCare mandate, sends case back to lower court 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.