Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, said Tuesday that it is unlikely the Senate will pass legislation to lower drug prices before the end of the year.
“I think it would be the triumph of hope over experience to think that we could get it done before the end of the year, but there’s a lot of interest in doing something on drug pricing,” Thune told reporters on Tuesday.
Lowering drug prices has been seen as a rare possible area of bipartisan accomplishment, but the effort is running into obstacles and a range of competing plans.
The government funding package in December is seen as a possible vehicle for drug pricing measures as well as a range of other topics. Thune said drug pricing “possibly” could be included in that package but that it would be “hard.”
Thune also appeared to blame the House impeachment inquiry into President Trump for moving slowly on drug pricing legislation, saying that “because of all the other stuff that’s happening around here and the partisan atmosphere, it’s getting left on the cutting room floor.”
House Democrats, though, are trying to show that they remain focused on kitchen table issues such as drug costs in addition to impeachment. The House is planning to vote on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) signature bill to lower drug prices, which would allow the secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate prices on up to 250 drugs per year, next month.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), though, has denounced that bill as “socialist” and vowed to block it. He has also declined to support a somewhat more modest bill in the Senate from Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
Many Republican senators have objected to a provision of that bill that would force drug companies to pay the money back to Medicare if their prices rose faster than inflation. Grassley is trying to build support among his Republican colleagues for the measure.
It is possible that less controversial parts of the bill could be broken off and included in a larger package moving through Congress, but Democrats might object to that move.
The path forward on the issue remains in doubt, despite the focus from lawmakers in both parties and the rhetoric from President Trump, who has railed against high drug prices.
Thune also pointed out that Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has blocked a drug pricing bill from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) from passing by unanimous consent. Schumer argued that lawmakers should take larger action, not address the subject piecemeal. Schumer has also pointed out that McConnell controls the floor and that if Republicans want to act on Cornyn’s measure or other drug pricing bills, McConnell could schedule a vote.
“We’ll see if there are some elements of ideas that are out there that could get bipartisan support,” Thune said.