Moderate Democrats Sink Pelosi’s Aggressive Drug Pricing Bill In Key Committee Vote

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s aggressive drug pricing package failed a key committee vote on Wednesday, prompting questions about whether the measure can survive a full House vote.

Reps. Scott Peters (Calif.), Kurt Schrader (Ore.), and Kathleen Rice (N.Y.), all Democrats, followed through on their threats to vote against the provision in the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s markup. Republicans unanimously opposed the measure, too, leading to a tie vote that means the provision failed to advance to a full House vote.

Before the vote, Peters said he opposed the legislation on the grounds that it would stifle future investment in drug development. He cited a Sept. 8 letter in which over 400 biotechnology investors argued that the Democrats’ bill was “draconian” and would “immediately halt funding of drug discovery and development.”

“This bill can be fixed,” Peters said. “It needs to be. I hope my colleagues on both sides will consider a different approach, one that protects both our patients and our future.”

Peters said he planned to introduce an amendment that would substitute his own bill for House Democrats’ current bill, which would create a dramatically scaled-back Medicare negotiation scheme that applies only to drugs whose market exclusivity has expired, but still lack market competition. And it would have only applied to outpatient drugs, which the committee chairman, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), said was not broad enough.

But following Peters’ remarks, Pallone said Peters had agreed to withdraw his amendment without forcing members to vote.

The three Democrats’ votes came despite the fact that they voted to support a nearly identical version of the legislation in December 2019, and again in June 2020. But during his remarks, Schrader called the old bill “a partisan approach,” and said he only supported the old bill “reluctantly.”

Pelosi’s current proposal, Schrader said, is “an unacceptable solution to the high cost of drugs that sets up a vicious cycle of killing jobs and innovation.”

The vote may not stop House leadership from pushing forward with the bill, however, as a separate panel is also marking up the legislation. House Democrats only have a three-vote margin on the House floor, and the vote attracted the attention of House leadership. The drug pricing provision will “remain a cornerstone of the Build Back Better Act as work continues between the House, Senate and White House on the final bill,” Pelosi spokesperson Henry Connelly said in a statement.

Pallone alluded to ongoing negotiations between the House and Senate on drug pricing policy, as Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said Tuesday that Pelosi’s measure does not have the votes to pass the Senate.

“I do believe that we are going to have a provision in this reconciliation bill with the Senate’s support that will pass that will address drug pricing. And I would really like to have you at the table over the next couple of weeks as we negotiate this,” Pallone said, addressing the three moderate members.

Social Security Works, an advocacy group that supported Pelosi’s proposal, did not hold back in its criticism of the three moderates.

“It is disgusting when politicians who supported Medicare negotiation in the past switch their votes in exchange for pharma cash,” said executive director Alex Lawson.

Peters accepted a flood of campaign cash from drug makers after co-authoring a letter that criticized Pelosi’s drug pricing plan for being partisan. Rice and Schrader also signed that letter, which was sent in May.

The failed vote represents a major win for Republicans, who have long derided Pelosi’s drug pricing bill as “socialist” or as a “government takeover” of health care. In a statement, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), the committee’s top Republican, called the plan “a radical price control scheme” that would lead to less innovation.

Drug makers also took a victory lap Wednesday, as they have opposed Pelosi’s bill for years. The brand drug lobby PhRMA said the vote signals that lawmakers have real concerns with Pelosi’s plan.

“These concerns have been known for months yet they’ve been ignored by House leaders,” said PhRMA Executive Vice President for Public Affairs Debra DeShong.


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