The larger plan is backed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and President Joe Biden. It is part of of congressional Democrats $3.5 trillion budget package. It includes letting Medicare negotiate drug prices.
But Democrats can only afford so many defections, clinging to an eight-member majority in the lower chamber. And the new bill is seen by some as a direct challenge to the larger plan, which is being marked up by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), one of the sponsors of the new bill, a member of the panel, and a critic of Pelosi in the past, indicated as much, telling news outlets in a statement, “I support many of the proposals being considered this week, but I do not support advancing policies that are not fiscally responsible and jeopardize the bill’s final passage.”
“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,” Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) added. “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.”
The bill (pdf) would let Medicare negotiate drug prices, but only for a subset of drugs that no longer have competition because they lack exclusivity. It would also limit price increases on some drugs and eliminate loopholes in law dealing with pricing.
“Nobody should have to choose between putting food on the table and filling a prescription. Our plan will drastically lower out-of-pocket drug costs for consumers, as Democrats have promised, while we preserve American jobs and investment in future innovation,” Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) said in a statement.
Reps. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) and Lou Correa (D-Calif.) also sponsored the new bill.
If four or more Democrats vote against the Pelosi-backed plan, it would fail to pass. No Republicans have signaled support for that plan, and most have voiced opposition.
A Pelosi spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Progressive groups denounced the Democrat split, urging people to call the representatives and urge them to get behind the other plan.
“Reps. Peters, Rice, and Schrader are prioritizing drug company profits over lower drug prices for the American people, particularly for patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis,” Patrick Gaspard, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, said in a statement.
“To the contrary of what they contend, their opposition to the drugs proposal threatens the entirety of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, which Democrats have campaigned on for years and that they previously voted for,” he added.
Murphy expressed concern last week about spending in the $3.5 trillion budget package, which Democrats want to ram through Congress without Republican support. She’s not alone; Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have said they want the high price tag cut, and nine congressmembers, including Schrader and Rice, wrote to Pelosi in May calling for a plan that could garner bipartisan support “with buy-in from a majority of Americans and stakeholders in the public and private sectors.”
Democrats hope to use savings generated from drug pricing negotiations to fund other benefits, expanding the public health care system.
Some of the provisions were in H.R. 3, which the House of Representatives passed in 2019 but was not taken up by the Senate.
The bill “called for using savings from the negotiation for prescription drug prices—the savings from that to be used for expanding dental, visual, and hearing benefits for seniors,” Pelosi told reporters in a recent call, adding, “We’re all for that.”