Top GOP senator: Drug pricing action unlikely before end of year

Top GOP senator: Drug pricing action unlikely before end of year
© Greg Nash

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTrump's magical thinking won't stop the coronavirus pandemic Lawmakers brace for more coronavirus legislation after trillion bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Senate overcomes hurdles, passes massive coronavirus bill MORE (R-S.D.), the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, said Tuesday that it is unlikely the Senate will pass legislation to lower drug prices before the end of the year. 

“I think it would be the triumph of hope over experience to think that we could get it done before the end of the year, but there's a lot of interest in doing something on drug pricing,” Thune told reporters on Tuesday. 

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Lowering drug prices has been seen as a rare possible area of bipartisan accomplishment, but the effort is running into obstacles and a range of competing plans. 

The government funding package in December is seen as a possible vehicle for drug pricing measures as well as a range of other topics. Thune said drug pricing “possibly” could be included in that package but that it would be “hard.”

Thune also appeared to blame the House impeachment inquiry into President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden campaign: Trump and former vice president will have phone call about coronavirus Esper: Military personnel could help treat coronavirus patients 'if push comes to shove' Schumer calls for military official to act as medical equipment czar MORE for moving slowly on drug pricing legislation, saying that “because of all the other stuff that's happening around here and the partisan atmosphere, it's getting left on the cutting room floor.”

House Democrats, though, are trying to show that they remain focused on kitchen table issues such as drug costs in addition to impeachment. The House is planning to vote on Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSchumer calls for military official to act as medical equipment czar Overnight Health Care: Trump resists pressure for nationwide stay-at-home order | Trump open to speaking to Biden about virus response | Fauci gets security detail | Outbreak creates emergency in nursing homes McConnell: Pelosi trying to 'jam' Senate on fourth coronavirus relief bill MORE’s (D-Calif.) signature bill to lower drug prices, which would allow the secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate prices on up to 250 drugs per year, next month.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: Trump resists pressure for nationwide stay-at-home order | Trump open to speaking to Biden about virus response | Fauci gets security detail | Outbreak creates emergency in nursing homes McConnell: Pelosi trying to 'jam' Senate on fourth coronavirus relief bill On The Money: House Dems push huge jobs project in wake of coronavirus | Trump leans on businesses in virus response | Lawmakers press IRS to get relief checks to seniors MORE (R-Ky.), though, has denounced that bill as “socialist” and vowed to block it. He has also declined to support a somewhat more modest bill in the Senate from Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyLawmakers press IRS to get coronavirus checks to seniors Pelosi floats undoing SALT deduction cap in next coronavirus bill Democrats eye additional relief checks for coronavirus MORE (R-Iowa) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenWhoopi Goldberg presses Sanders: 'Why are you still in the race?' Unprecedented health crisis called for historic expansion of unemployment insurance Coronavirus crisis scrambles 2020 political calculus MORE (D-Ore.). 

Many Republican senators have objected to a provision of that bill that would force drug companies to pay the money back to Medicare if their prices rose faster than inflation. Grassley is trying to build support among his Republican colleagues for the measure.  

It is possible that less controversial parts of the bill could be broken off and included in a larger package moving through Congress, but Democrats might object to that move. 

The path forward on the issue remains in doubt, despite the focus from lawmakers in both parties and the rhetoric from President Trump, who has railed against high drug prices. 

Thune also pointed out that Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMcConnell launches ad touting role in passing coronavirus relief Joe Biden can't lead the charge from his home in Delaware Texas man arrested for allegedly threatening Democrats over coronavirus bill MORE (D-N.Y.) has blocked a drug pricing bill from Sen. John CornynJohn CornynLawmakers already planning more coronavirus stimulus after T package Cuban says he'd spank daughter if she was partying during coronavirus pandemic Twitter comes under fire over Chinese disinformation on coronavirus MORE (R-Texas) from passing by unanimous consent. Schumer argued that lawmakers should take larger action, not address the subject piecemeal. Schumer has also pointed out that McConnell controls the floor and that if Republicans want to act on Cornyn’s measure or other drug pricing bills, McConnell could schedule a vote. 

“We'll see if there are some elements of ideas that are out there that could get bipartisan support,” Thune said.