Progressive leader warns members could vote no on drug price bill as it stands

Aaron Schwartz

The co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus warned Thursday that some progressive lawmakers might vote against Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) bill to lower drug prices unless changes are made. 

“We have told leadership that there could be people who vote against the bill so they should be ready for that if things aren’t included,” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) told reporters after a meeting of the Progressive Caucus on Thursday, adding that the group had not done a formal vote count. 

Pocan added “we haven’t gotten that far” when asked if the group would issue a formal statement threatening to vote no, noting he still hoped leadership would agree to changes before a vote. 

Pelosi announced earlier on Thursday that the House will vote on the drug pricing bill, which is one of Democrats’ top priorities, next week. The measure is still widely expected to pass, but the progressive concerns do pose an obstacle that Democratic leadership will need to navigate. 

Pocan said that progressives are setting up a meeting with leadership for “very early next week.”

The bill would allow the secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower prices for a minimum of 35 drugs up to a maximum of 250 drugs per year, with the lower prices applied to people with private insurance as well as those on Medicare. 

Republicans have denounced the bill as “socialist” and warned it would hinder the development of new cures. 

But progressives say the bill does not go far enough. 

One of their main proposals is to increase the minimum number of drugs that can be negotiated. They also want to extend the lower drug prices under the bill to apply to people who are uninsured and to fully repeal the ban on Medicare negotiating drug prices, rather than just creating an exception to the ban for certain drugs as the measure currently does. 

The Progressive Caucus invited Pelosi’s top health care adviser, Wendell Primus, to attend their meeting on Thursday, but he did not come.

“Representative Wendell must have had a committee meeting,” Pocan said. 

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), who has been one of the most vocal lawmakers in calling for changes, gave stronger assurances on how he would vote compared to what he has said in the past. 

“I’ve tried to be positive throughout this and talk about improving the bill, rather than opposing the bill, but it would be really difficult to vote for it if no improvements are made,” Doggett said on Thursday. 

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in October released a preliminary analysis of the first section of the bill, which allows for negotiation, finding the measure would save Medicare $345 billion. 

The CBO is expected to release a table showing savings from the entire bill next week before the vote, according to a Democratic aide. 

But Doggett said he wants a full, “multi-page document” from the CBO before voting on the bill. “I want to see the whole thing,” he said. 

He added that now it is clear that President Trump opposes the bill, House Democrats are essentially setting a marker for action under a Democratic president in 2021. 

“We are setting the standard, we are setting the model for what a Democratic president would do on prescription drugs,” Doggett said. 

Tags Donald Trump Lloyd Doggett Mark Pocan Nancy Pelosi
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