House Democrats rejected an amendment to pass bipartisan drug pricing legislation during a fraught markup Thursday, choosing instead to charge ahead on Speaker Nancy Pelosi's partisan bill.
The amendment from Rep. Greg Walden was a package of four bills that House Republicans and Democrats had worked on together to help lower prescription drug costs and bring more generics to market. Walden urged Democrats to support it because the Pelosi bill would not become law under a GOP-controlled Senate.
"I’m offering this amendment in the hopes of moving away from this unnecessary, political exercise in futility and returning to a productive, bipartisan process that will lower the cost of drugs for Americans," Walden said.
But Democrats said the package was inadequate and opted to press ahead on the Pelosi bill, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act. The party has long wanted to let the government negotiate prescription drugs as a way to lower prices, and the Pelosi bill would allow it for up to 250 drugs so that they're closer to what people pay in other developed countries. The bill would also penalize drug companies that don't negotiate.
Democratic leaders hope to have a floor vote on the bill the week of Oct. 28, which will help to signal what type of action the party would take on drug prices if voters were to elect a Democrat to the White House.
During the markup Thursday, in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Republicans blasted Democrats for sidelining other legislation they had worked on all year in favor of the Pelosi bill.
"It's something we should have on the House floor. You would get over 400 votes for that bill," said Rep. Steve Scalise, the minority whip.
"This is not what the public wants, they want us to work together," said Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia, urging Democrats to "put down your pitchforks and torches of animosity."
But Rep. Anna Eshoo, who leads the health subcommittee, said the differences between Republicans and Democrats about how to take on drug prices were too vast and that she believed Republican ideas weren't effective enough.
"This is a big split between the two parties because we do believe that direct negotiations is the best way to bring down significantly the cost of drugs," she said.
Democrats also dared President Trump to support the legislation, noting that he had said when he was running for office that he thought the government should be allowed to negotiate drug prices.
"Maybe he’ll come out and say he loves it, and maybe we’ll get some of our colleagues in the House and Senate to change their minds," said Rep. Frank Pallone, who leads the committee.
Of the Pelosi bill, Trump has said only that it was "great to see" drug pricing measures introduced, adding of the issue, "Let's get it done in a bipartisan way!"
The committee didn't begin marking up the Pelosi bill until four hours into the hearing. Republicans repeatedly pointed to a Congressional Budget Office analysis that projected as many as 15 new treatments may never make it to market if the bill were to become law. Price fixing, they said, would stifle future treatments and cures for devastating illnesses such as Lou Gehrig's disease or Alzheimer's disease.
But Democrats disagreed with the assessment. The argument that innovation would suffer, countered Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, was “just a ploy to protect a greedy industry. ” House Democrats instead focused on the $345 billion in savings to the government over seven years that were expected under the bill.
Republicans had more than 200 other amendments prepared to file. Democrats rejected one Republican amendment that would have blocked the federal government from negotiating the price of future drugs to treat Alzheimer's disease, and another that would have required savings on insulin to be passed onto patients, instead favoring a lower price to begin with rather than trying to work within a confusing rebate system.
Pelosi announced Thursday morning that the legislation will be renamed for Rep. Elijah Cummings, who died Thursday morning and during his time in Congress fought to have the government negotiate drug prices.