Partisan lines are forming on drug price cuts and Democrats’ economic plan

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is warning that Democrats’ plans to cut drug prices would insert “socialist price controls” between Americans and the treatments they need as lines partisan battles form on a shrunken economy package that President Joe Biden wants Congress to finish in a matter of weeks.

“Go ahead,” Democratic Senate No. 2 leader Dick Durbin of Illinois told reporters on Monday, underscoring his party’s hopes the fight would back them up in November’s congressional elections. “This prescription drug problem is an inflation problem. It is a public health problem. It’s a cost to the government. And that’s something the American people understand.

Biden conceded last week that he would settle for a much narrower economic plan what he had sought at the start of his presidency. Capitulating to Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., Biden said he wants Democrats to quickly draft and pass a measure capping pharmaceutical prices, extending expiring subsidies for people buying health insurance and modestly cutting deficits federal.

Manchin, one of his party’s most conservative members, a champion of fossil fuels and a much-needed 50-50 Senate vote, announced last week that those are the only things he’s willing to include in the legislation. . He cited concerns about inflation which has risen rapidly this year. Manchin’s remarks meant Democrats’ hopes of including efforts to reverse climate change were a long way off at best This year.

“I haven’t strayed from anything,” The West Virginian told reporters on Monday of months-long discussions of the party’s economic push, now apparently on life support, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN. .Y. He called inflation the “biggest concern” and added: “I don’t know what tomorrow brings.”

While Democrats seemed broadly ready to accept the streamlined bill and claim electoral success, Manchin’s performance clearly carries a lot. His objections boosted most of Biden’s multi-billion dollar aspirations to bolster child care and other social programs and raise taxes on the wealthy, contributing to criticism that Democrats have failed to control the White House and — narrowly — Congress.

“I think Joe should have made his position clear a long time ago,” Durbin said. “We spent a lot of time, wasted a lot of time negotiating.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, told fellow Democrats in a letter that the Senate’s proposed health care provisions “are critical because we must act to reduce the cost of prescription drugs.” . Said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.: “We waited a year and a half for 50 votes. It’s time to go where we can go.

The prescription drug measure negotiated by Schumer and Manchin would allow Medicare to negotiate the prices of pharmaceuticals it purchases, require manufacturers to pay rebates for certain price increases, set an annual cap of $2,000 on drug expenses for Medicare beneficiaries and provide free vaccines. for old people.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the proposal would save the government $288 billion over the next decade, mostly because the government would pay less for pharmaceuticals. Subsidies for extended health care would use some of that money, with the rest going to deficit reduction.

McConnell said the proposal would punish an industry that delivered COVID-19 vaccines just two years ago, a remarkably quick and efficient achievement, and hurt patients.

“Democrats in Washington are working right now, right now to find ways to put more bureaucracy between American patients and the treatments they rely on,” he said. “They want to put socialist price controls between American innovators and new cures for debilitating diseases.”

White House officials have touted the benefits of bolstering subsidies for millions of people to buy coverage under the Affordable Care Act and lowering the cost of prescription drugs. Both are long-standing Democratic goals.

“We are on the verge of a very big victory here” on health care, said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. She reiterated a promise from Biden last week to take executive action if Congress fails to act on climate, but gave no details on what Biden might do.

Notably, Schumer did not mention economic legislation as the Senate began its session on Monday. The Democratic senators seemed certain to discuss their plans during their weekly Tuesday luncheon. Biden and party leaders are hoping to approve a package on a likely unanimous Republican opposition before Congress enters its August recess.

Manchin said he would consider climate change legislation in September once he saw updated inflation figures. Approving a measure in the middle of an election campaign would be extremely difficult. Republicans look likely to win control of the House and also have a realistic chance of capturing the Senate.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, known as the PhRMA, the industry’s most influential lobby group, said the Democrats’ latest bill has gone “from bad to worse for patients.” Spokeswoman Debra DeShong said the measure would “threaten patient access and future innovation.”

PhRMA said its member companies spent a record $102.3 billion on research and development last year.

Overall, the industry spent $83 billion on research and development in 2019, or 10 times the inflation-adjusted value of what it spent annually in the 1980s, the Congressional Budget said. Nonpartisan Office in a report last year.

Drugmakers spent on average a quarter of their net revenue on R&D in 2019, a far larger proportion than the semiconductor, technology hardware and software industries, the budget office said.

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Associated Press writers Seung Min Kim and Matthew Perrone contributed to this report.

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