Democrats Seize Major Drug Price Deal, Account Nearly Completed

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, New York, flanked by US Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), meet with reporters after a weekly Senate Democratic lunch at the US Capitol in Washington. November 2, 2021

Evelyn Hawkstein | Reuters

House and Senate Democrats reached a breakthrough agreement to cut prescription drug prices on Tuesday, ending one of the party’s most heated controversies in their $ 1.75 trillion conciliation bill.

“I am pleased to announce that an agreement has been reached to reduce the price of prescription drugs for seniors and families under the Build Back Better legislation,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, New York, told a news conference. “From year to year, setting the price of prescription drugs has been a major challenge for Americans, including the vast majority of both Democrats and Republicans.”

The Senate Chief Democrat added that the plan will give the government the power to regulate the prices of some of the most expensive drugs on the market and change the structure of Medicare drug benefits to limit out-of-pocket spending for seniors to $ 2,000 a year.

The deal, struck at the last moment, surprised Democrats outside of the leadership, in part because the Medicare negotiating powers were not part of the framework agreement that President Joe Biden released last week, which he presented to Democrats in the House of Representatives as a completed deal.

White House officials said the presidential structure only contained provisions that Biden was confident he could get the Senators to vote on, and the Medicare deal was not one of them at the time.

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But Tuesday’s deal has already won approval from one of those senators, Kirsten Cinema, a moderate Arizona Democrat who opposed previously proposed Medicare talks.

Senator welcomes new agreement on a historic, transformative Medicare drug negotiation plan that will cut out-of-pocket costs for seniors by ensuring that drug prices do not rise faster than inflation, save taxpayer money and protect innovation to keep Arizona residents alive and America to have access to essential drugs, as well as new drugs and therapies, ”her office said in a statement Tuesday.

Sinema also particularly thanked two House Democrats, Representative Scott Peters, California, and Kurt Schrader, Oregon, for helping draft the compromise legislation. Like Sinema, Schroeder and Peters opposed a plan earlier this year to give Medicare more negotiating powers.

Tuesday’s announcement represents a victory for the party leadership after weeks of struggling to defeat a handful of dissent on critical aspects of a broader $ 1.75 trillion plan.

It also briefly raised hopes on Capitol Hill that Democrats could finalize a bill that will be passed by the House of Representatives by the end of the week. Earlier in the day on Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Calif., Said the party could resolve its differences “before the end of the day” and vote on a social safety net within days.

However, a group of moderate Democrats later dashed those hopes when the group said it would support the Build Back Better bill only after reviewing an economic analysis by the Congressional Budget Office or the Joint Tax Committee. The non-partisan budget office provides legislators with budgetary and economic information about proposed legislation.

Democratic representatives Ed Keyes, Josh Gottheimer, Kurt Schrader, Stephanie Murphy and Jared Golden wrote in a letter to Pelosi that they could not vote on the bill without the participation of the CBO or the tax committee. They also stressed that it will take them at least 72 hours to check the final wording of any bill.

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate are due to leave Washington for a scheduled weekend break and return on November 15.

Nonetheless, Democrats have a long way to go before pushing the reconstruction law to President Joe Biden’s table. Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va., remains skeptical about the size of the bill and disagrees with more progressive counterparts on some Medicare extensions and climate initiatives.

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