Sanders calls on Democrats to bring up drug pricing bill in Senate
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Wednesday called on Senate Democrats to vote on legislation to lower the cost of prescription drugs while criticizing what he said was a lack of action on the issue.
“We’re voting for an assistant secretary of something,” he said. “The American people are not staying up nights worrying about that. They’re worried about prescription drugs. They’re worried about climate.”
Lowering drug prices was a key part of Democrats’ Build Back Better package, but that measure is now stalled with no clear path forward given objections from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), meaning it does not have the 50 votes needed to pass.
“What I believe we have to do now is take the components of Build Back Better, starting with prescription drugs, bring it to the floor, start debate and we’ll see where we go,” Sanders said.
Drug pricing legislation backed by Sanders would face an uphill climb to passage given widespread Republican opposition to more sweeping drug pricing measures and the 60-vote threshold needed for most legislation.
But Sanders argued it is worth having debates on the Senate floor anyway. “Things happen when you get to the floor,” he said.
Asked if he had made this request to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who sets the Senate’s agenda, Sanders said, “Sen. Schumer and I have talked about this for several months.”
Sanders declined to characterize Schumer’s response, telling reporters to ask the New York senator.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who joined Sanders in unveiling a drug pricing measure on Wednesday, also called for a Senate debate.
“How are you going to know if we don’t have the debate?” she said. “How are you going to know if we’re just voting and voting and voting on the same stuff every single day?”
The bill from Sanders and Klobuchar would lower the prices Medicare pays for drugs down to the levels paid by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Sanders asked for unanimous consent to bring his bill up on Wednesday, but it was blocked by Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), who said it would harm innovation from drug companies and noted that it had not been vetted through the Senate’s regular process.
A different version of drug pricing legislation, allowing Medicare to negotiate prices for some older drugs, was included in Build Back Better after months of negotiations with more moderate Democrats such as Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.).
But Democrats are growing impatient for action on one of their key campaign promises as the midterm elections in November approach.
A group of 40 House Democrats last month also called for “swift” action on drug prices.
Democratic leaders maintain that an agreement on a new version of Build Back Better can still be worked out, which would have a much better chance of becoming law given that it would use the fast-track procedure known as reconciliation to bypass a Senate filibuster.
“I think it’s no great secret that for five months with the exception of the infrastructure bill, we have not been addressing the needs of the American people,” Sanders said.
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