Of the many, many provisions that could end up in the $ 3.5 trillion spending package Democrats hope to pass with their ultra-thin majority in Congress, allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs is one of the most popular.
In fact, it’s so popular that a group of the most vulnerable sitting Democrats in Congress are pleading with Democratic leaders to pass it. Does it get in your way? A group of fellow centrists, many of whom have campaigned with coffers full of drug company money and comparatively little risk of losing their seats.
While the idea that the loyalty of progressive Democrats to activist groups hurts the party is frequently discussed in the media and in Washington, the split over drug prices shows how the loyalty of centrist members of Congress to politically powerful industries can be just as damaging to Democratic electoral hopes. .
A. Kaiser Family Foundation survey Two-thirds of Americans were found to think that allowing prescription drug trading should be a priority for Congress, with only 4% stating their opposition to the idea. Another poll conducted by Gallup for the nonprofit West Health, found that 81% of adults support the idea, including 97% of Democrats, 80% of independents, and 61% of Republicans. The proposal is especially popular with older people, the most trusted voters in off-year elections.
So it wasn’t all that surprising on Wednesday when a group of swing-seat Democrats, many of them ideological moderates, sent a letter to the leadership of Congress demanding the inclusion of the idea in a final package.
The letter itself noted a number of political reasons for their inclusion: Pharmaceutical companies are constantly increasing the prices of crucial drugs, often at rates that far exceed inflation; Americans often pay much more than people in other countries for the same drugs; money saved through negotiation could pay for other health care reforms.
The number one problem I hear in my district is the cost of prescription drugs. We have to do something. We cannot afford to wait.
Representative Susan Wild (D-Pa.)
But the identity of the signatories and the last line of the letter, which cites the popularity of negotiating the price of drugs. – indicate another News Block they hope to act: it will help them win tough races for re-election in 2022, when the political environment is expected to favor Republicans.
“The number one issue I hear in my district is the cost of prescription drugs,” said Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), Lead author of the letter. “We have to do something. We cannot afford to wait. “
While state legislatures are poised to redraw congressional lines before the 2022 election, Democratic signatories, including representatives from Michigan. Haley Stevens and Elissa Slotkin, Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids, and Texas Rep. Colin Allred and Lizzie Fletcher: Currently represent districts with a Cook Partisan Voter Index score of R +1. (Cook’s PVI, which is based on recent election results, is widely used by political professionals to estimate the partisan leanings of a district or state.)
Key Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (California) and Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (Oregon) also support giving Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices. .
The biggest obstacle to action, for now at least, is a relatively small number of moderate Democrats, most of whom have signed contracts. separate letter in May threatening to vote against any action on pharmaceutical prices that did not have bipartisan support. The small majority of the party in the house means that these centrists could block any action.
“We must obtain bipartisan and bicameral support, with the participation of the majority of Americans and stakeholders in the public and private sectors,” wrote the nine moderates, led by California Representative Scott Peters, in a letter that echoed of the pharmaceutical industry talking points. on the need to balance affordability with innovation. “If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we all really need to be in this together.”
Gottheimer has regularly attacked progressives, suggesting they hurt Democrats’ electoral chances. Now he and his allies are distracting the party from passing politically powerful legislation that could help the party’s most vulnerable members.
While this group of moderates includes some members who occupy swing seats, many of them, including Peters, New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer, and Massachusetts Representative Jake Auchincloss – they also have a history of receiving significant donations from the pharmaceutical industry. In contrast to members demanding action on drug prices, moderate setbacks represent districts with an average PVI of D +9.
Gottheimer, in particular, has regularly attacked progressives and suggested they hurt Democrats’ electoral chances. “If you’re spending all your resources and time fighting each other instead of fighting the other team, that’s a huge distraction,” he said. told The Washington Post this week, explaining why he formed a PAC dedicated to defending against progressive primary challenges.
But this time, he and his allies are distracting the party from passing politically powerful legislation that could help the party’s most vulnerable members.
The pharmaceutical industry, by many reports, is Washington’s most powerful lobby group. The industry spent more than $ 92 million on lobbying in the first quarter of 2021 alone, according to OpenSecrets. And PhRMA, the industry’s leading trade group, has already declared its full opposition to the reforms in a statement Thursday.
“This is not about reducing prescription drug costs,” said Debra DeShong, the group’s executive vice president for public affairs. “The real goal of this budget is to overturn Medicare to help pay for Tesla tax credits and other government programs at the expense of seniors.”
“Pharma is going to do everything possible,” said Margarida Jorge, campaign director for Lower Drug Prices Now. “There is nothing they are not willing to do. There will be scare tactics. “
The electoral fight has already begun: American Action Network, a non-profit political group controlled by the Republican leadership of the House, received a donation of $ 4.5 million from PhRMA in 2019. In May, it began running $ 5 million in ads. They attacked 45 different Democrats for supporting Medicare’s Drug Price Negotiation, arguing that it would outsource drug manufacturing to China. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee responded with digital ads of its own, defending vulnerable members from attacks.
Wild was one of the Democrats PhRMA is targeting, but he insists he is not afraid of political pushback.
“I’m happy to take on the pharmaceutical industry if that’s the price it takes to do something,” he said. “I think this is such a winning track that I don’t care.”
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