Senate panel advances bipartisan bill to lower drug prices amid GOP blowback

Senate panel advances bipartisan bill to lower drug prices amid GOP blowback
© Greg Nash

The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday voted to advance a bipartisan deal to lower drug prices to the full Senate, though nine Republicans voted against the measure. 

All Democrats on the panel supported the deal between Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyMulvaney faces uncertain future after public gaffes State cites 38 people for violations in Clinton email review Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle mourn Cummings MORE (R-Iowa) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHouse passes bill taking aim at anonymous shell companies Senate Democrats to force vote Wednesday to overturn IRS rules on SALT deduction cap Hillicon Valley: Facebook removes Russian, Iranian accounts trying to interfere in 2020 | Zuckerberg on public relations blitz | Uncertainty over Huawei ban one month out MORE (D-Ore.), leading to a final vote of 19-9. 

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The large number of GOP defections doesn't bode well for the likelihood of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham to introduce resolution condemning House impeachment inquiry Overnight Defense: Trump's Syria envoy wasn't consulted on withdrawal | McConnell offers resolution urging Trump to rethink Syria | Diplomat says Ukraine aid was tied to political investigations Partisan squabbles endanger congressional response to Trump's course on Syria MORE (R-Ky.) bringing the bill up for a vote in the full Senate, at least not without substantial changes.

The bill would impose a limit on drug price increases in Medicare’s prescription drug program, called Part D, by forcing drug companies to pay money back if their prices rise faster than inflation. 

Many Republican senators opposed this provision as a price control that violates GOP free-market orthodoxy, and therefore opposed the larger package. 

“I’ve heard from Iowans who have left prescriptions at the pharmacy counter or who skipped doses of their medicine to save money,” Grassley said, adding, “This is the moment for the Senate to act.”

Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyNSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns MORE (R-Pa.) led the effort to strike from the bill the limit on price increases, an amendment that failed on a tie vote of 14-14, with just two Republicans, Grassley and Sen. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyUN Security Council to meet after Turkey launches Syria offensive Trump faces growing GOP revolt on Syria To win the federal paid family leave debate, allow states to lead the way MORE (R-La.), voting in favor of keeping the provision.  

“We should not use this sledgehammer of a universal Part D price control,” Toomey said. 

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThune calls Trump remarks on lynching 'inappropriate' Cash surge puts more Senate races in play Trump slams 'very dumb' O'Rourke for proposals on guns, tax exempt status for churches MORE (R-Texas) voted for the overall package but also objected to the limit on Medicare price increases. 

“This bill is not anywhere near action on the floor,” Cornyn said. “It’s more important that we get it right than that we get it done fast.”

The advancement of the measure was a rare loss for the powerful pharmaceutical industry, which denounced the bill. But there is a long road ahead with plenty of opportunities for the industry to stop the bill on its way to the full Senate. 

Democrats all supported the package but said more needed to be done. They pushed for an amendment that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, which has been a Democratic priority.

All Republicans voted to defeat that amendment, while all Democrats except Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezTurkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate Paul blocks Senate vote on House-passed Syria resolution House to vote on resolution condemning Trump's Syria pullback MORE (N.J.), voted in favor.

House Democrats are working on a rival drug pricing bill that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, removing a clause in current law that prevents Medicare from directly interfering in drug prices. 

Asked about the GOP objections to his bill, Grassley told reporters after the vote Thursday that Republicans should realize the Grassley-Wyden bill is more moderate than a potential deal between President TrumpDonald John TrumpGraham to introduce resolution condemning House impeachment inquiry Support for impeachment inches up in poll Fox News's Bret Baier calls Trump's attacks on media 'a problem' MORE and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGraham to introduce resolution condemning House impeachment inquiry Democrats say they have game changer on impeachment Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg would support delaying Libra | More attorneys general join Facebook probe | Defense chief recuses from 'war cloud' contract | Senate GOP blocks two election security bills | FTC brings case against 'stalking' app developer MORE (D-Calif.) would be. 

“You've got the president campaigning on doing away with the noninterference clause, who knows what he's going to do at the last minute,” Grassley told reporters. “If he would join forces with Pelosi, look at what that would do to everything that we Republicans stand for in the United States Senate.”

“It seems to me that the Grassley-Wyden approach is a very moderate approach to what could come out,” he added. “There's got to be a realization on the part of Republicans about that and there ought to be a realization on the part of pharmaceutical companies where they would be if we had the noninterference clause go away.”