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Schumer blocks drug pricing measure during Senate fight, seeking larger action

Greg Nash

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday objected to a bipartisan bill to lower prescription drug prices that a top Republican was seeking to pass unanimously, arguing that larger action is needed instead of a piecemeal approach. 

The move came amid a tense back-and-forth on the floor among multiple senators from both parties over lowering the cost of drugs, an intensely debated issue that is a rare area of possible bipartisan action this year. 

{mosads}Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) was seeking to pass by unanimous consent a bill he is co-sponsoring with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), which would crack down on drug companies gaming the patent system to delay competition from makers of cheaper generic drugs. 

But Schumer objected to the request, blocking the move. The New York Democrat said that while he did not oppose the bill on substantive grounds, he opposed Cornyn playing a “little game” to try to move only his bill forward without larger action to lower drug prices, which he said Republicans are blocking. 

“We have a whole lot of legislative ideas, not just his,” Schumer said on the floor. 

“His party blocks everything that would have far larger consequence,” Schumer added, speaking of Cornyn, who is up for reelection next year.

Schumer pointed to measures to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, as well as a bipartisan measure from Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) as better options to lower drug prices. 

Cornyn responded that Schumer’s move was “what people hate about Washington, D.C.” 

“My bill is not going to sink the prospects of that larger package of legislation,” Cornyn said, noting that his bill could pass on Wednesday.  

Cornyn also said any legislation must be bipartisan, noting that a proposal for Medicare to negotiate drug prices is not. 

“I’m not going to agree to price-fixing by the U.S. government,” Cornyn said.  

Schumer also asked why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who controls the floor, had not scheduled any drug-pricing votes on Cornyn’s bill or others. Schumer told Cornyn to “go to the majority leader, who has prevented any debate on anything on drugs.”  

Schumer is also pushing for a vote on a House-passed bill aimed at protecting people with preexisting conditions as a prerequisite for opening up a drug-pricing debate on the Senate floor, seeking to highlight an issue that Democrats have effectively leveraged for political advantage to attack Republicans. 

Complicating matters for Schumer, a member of his caucus, Blumenthal, joined Cornyn on the floor to push for passage of the bill. 

“Sen. Blumenthal remains hopeful that this bill will pass as soon as possible,” a Blumenthal spokeswoman said after the moves on Wednesday. 

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) also pushed on Wednesday to win unanimous consent for another drug-pricing bill, one he has sponsored with Grassley to require prices to be listed in TV advertisements for drugs. 

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) objected to that measure, saying that the legislation would provide seniors with misleading information because the list price of a drug is not usually the share that a senior actually pays, given insurance complications. Toomey also said the bill would “vilify” the pharmaceutical industry. 

“Let’s not stand in defense of pharmaceutical companies,” Durbin shot back to Toomey. “They’ve got plenty of people to defend them.”

Tags Chuck Grassley Chuck Schumer Dick Durbin John Cornyn Mitch McConnell Pat Toomey Ron Wyden

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