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House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill

House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill
© Greg Nash

House progressives are considering voting against a procedural motion to proceed to Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care: Following debate, Biden hammers Trump on coronavirus | Study: Universal mask-wearing could save 130,000 lives | Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight On The Money: Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight | Landlords, housing industry sue CDC to overturn eviction ban Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight MORE’s (D-Calif.) signature bill to lower drug prices next week unless they get changes to the measure, effectively threatening to stop the bill in its tracks. 

The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) on Friday is conducting a whip count of its 98 members to see how many would be willing to vote "no" on what is known as the rule for the legislation. 

The move, while not certain yet, is a sign of the intense frustration among some progressive House lawmakers that they have not been able to win changes to the bill they have sought for months, in what they say has been a closed off, top-down process. 

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Voting "no" on the rule, a procedural measure which sets the terms of debate for the bill itself, would stop the bill from coming up for a vote. Progressives hope that could force leadership to either allow floor votes on progressive amendments or make changes to the underlying bill before the vote.

“There are a lot of people who are saying if we don't get some of these things in, we have to consider all our options, including voting against the rule,” Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalOcasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Poll shows Biden leading Trump, tight House race in key Nebraska district MORE (D-Wash.), the co-chairwoman of the CPC, told reporters on Friday. 

The bill, a top priority for House Democrats, would allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower prices for a minimum of 35 drugs per year, up to a maximum of 250 drugs per year. 

The measure would save at least $345 billion over seven years, according to the Congressional Budget Office, a substantial sum. Some moderate House Democrats think the bill is already sweeping enough and the drug industry is strongly opposing it. Republicans have gone even farther, calling it “socialist.”

But progressives, from the other side, say more changes are needed to make the bill stronger. 

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They are pushing for increasing the number of drugs that can be negotiated as well as extending lower drug prices to people who are uninsured, and fully repealing the current ban on Medicare negotiating prices. 

Jayapal and the other progressive caucus leader, Chairman Rep. Mark PocanMark William PocanProgressive lawmakers call for United Nations probe into DHS 'human rights abuses' The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Barrett touts independence to sidestep confirmation questions Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair MORE (D-Wis.), met with Pelosi and relevant committee chairmen on Friday morning to press their case for the changes once again. Pocan said after the meeting that leadership made no commitments. 

“We just made a very, very strong case why we'd like to see those [changes] included,” Pocan said. “No commitments. They said they'd get back to us.”

A senior Democratic aide hit back at progressives on Friday. “Representatives Pocan and Jayapal are gravely misreading the situation if they try to stand in the way of the overwhelming hunger for HR3 within the House Democratic Caucus and among progressive Members," the aide said. "The Lower Drug Costs Now Act will pass next week.”

There has also been confusion over whether leadership will allow an amendment from Jayapal that was adopted in the House Education and Labor Committee to remain in the bill. The amendment would extend limits on drug price increases to people in private employer-sponsored health plans, not just those on Medicare.

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Jayapal is frustrated that her amendment, passed through regular order, might be stripped out, and said she has not been given a clear answer as to whether the amendment would remain in the bill. 

“I don't know why I'm having to fight so hard for an amendment that already passed through committee,” Jayapal said.

The senior Democratic aide said part of Jayapal's amendment would be stripped out of the bill. A study on the feasibility of her proposal will remain, but the actual implementation will be taken out. The aide pointed to the CBO having to reanalyze the bill, eating up valuable time, if Jayapal's full amendment remained.

"CBO communicated to Democrats that including the implementation provisions would have caused significant additional delay to producing a score, preventing the bill from coming to the floor," the aide said.

Updated at 4:50 p.m.