Moderate House Democrats threaten drug pricing bill in House panel

Moderate House Democrats threaten drug pricing bill in House panel
© Greg Nash

Three moderate House Democrats announced that they would vote against their party's legislation to lower drug prices in committee on Tuesday, threatening a defeat for one of Democrats' signature measures. 

Reps. Kurt SchraderWalter (Kurt) Kurt SchraderFailed drug vote points to bigger challenges for Democrats Democrats brace for toughest stretch yet with Biden agenda Sanders 'disappointed' in House panel's vote on drug prices MORE (D-Ore.), Scott PetersScott H. PetersFailed drug vote points to bigger challenges for Democrats Democrats brace for toughest stretch yet with Biden agenda Sanders 'disappointed' in House panel's vote on drug prices MORE (D-Calif.) and Kathleen RiceKathleen Maura RiceFailed drug vote points to bigger challenges for Democrats Democrats brace for toughest stretch yet with Biden agenda Sanders 'disappointed' in House panel's vote on drug prices MORE (D-N.Y.) announced in separate statements on Tuesday that they would vote against the section of Democrats' $3.5 trillion package dealing with lowering drug prices during a markup in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is currently ongoing.  

The committee has not yet turned to the drug pricing section, but if all three lawmakers stick to their statements and vote no, it would be enough to defeat that section, given that all Republicans are also expected to vote no.  

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All three lawmakers last week put forward scaled-back, rival drug pricing legislation that they said would "preserve innovation" and could gain bipartisan support. The pharmaceutical industry has attacked the drug pricing bill backed by Democratic leaders, known as H.R. 3, as threatening innovation from drug companies. 

"We need to be serious about how to address this issue by ensuring we champion legislation with broadly supported policies that have the bipartisan, bicameral backing needed to pass Congress," Schrader said in a statement. "I do not believe the drug pricing provision before the Energy and Commerce Committee today will meet this goal and succeed in the Senate, so I cannot vote in favor of the title." 

He said he would engage "in continued conversations with my colleagues" about the path forward.  

A spokesperson for the House Energy and Commerce Committee did not provide specifics on the path forward.  

"Democrats are committed to leveling the playing field and reining in the soaring cost of prescription drug prices for the American people," the spokesperson said. "The Energy and Commerce markup of the Build Back Better Act is ongoing and the Chairman continues to work to favorably report out all of the Committee’s reconciliation legislative recommendations." 

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H.R. 3, would allow the Health and Human Services secretary to negotiate lower drug prices, a long-held Democratic goal. It would also cap drug prices based on prices paid in other wealthy countries. 

David Mitchell, founder of the advocacy group Patients for Affordable Drugs Now, said Peters, Rice and Schrader are "doing the bidding of Big Pharma."

He noted that Democratic leaders can add drug pricing back into the package after it advances from another House panel, the Ways and Means Committee, this week. 

"Big Pharma will spend, do, and say whatever it takes to defeat any legislation that will curb its unilateral power to dictate prices of prescription drugs," Mitchell said. "We know the industry is all over Capitol Hill with an army of lobbyists who are twisting arms, making campaign contributions, issuing threats, and spreading lies. And in the end, they will fail.”

While the moderates are flexing their muscles in the House, the drug pricing provisions were already expected to be changed before the final version of the $3.5 trillion package, given that Senate Democratic moderates also have concerns.  

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenBiden pushes back at Democrats on taxes Want a clean energy future? Look to the tax code Democrats brace for toughest stretch yet with Biden agenda MORE (D-Ore.) is working on his own drug pricing legislation, which is expected to be less far-reaching than H.R. 3, though the details are not yet finalized. 

The troubles in the House, though, are a setback for moving the issue forward and illustrate the divisions within the party. 

Updated at 3:37 p.m.