WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) may just salvage something of President Biden’s economic agenda, starting with a significant prescription drug reform effort as soon as this month.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) killed Biden’s sweeping Build Back Better plan last December in an acrimonious split with the White House. But reports, confirmed by The Daily News, emerged that Schumer still wants to get something done. Negotiators in the Senate have put together a plan that starts with letting Medicare negotiate the cost of prescription drugs.
While a specific time wasn’t set, the plan is expected to be presented to the Senate parliamentarian on Tuesday, after the July 4 holiday.
For now, Schumer intends to move the measure through a process called reconciliation, under which bills that relate to the budget can be passed just with the Senate’s 50 Democrats and a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Kamala Harris. The parliamentarian will rule on whether the plan qualifies.
While Manchin got fed up with some of Biden’s and other Democrats’ more socially focused spending, he has long been a proponent of negotiating drug costs.
Manchin spokesman Sam Runyon did not immediately answer a request for comment. Still, he said in a statement earlier this week that Manchin’s support for negotiating drug prices “has never been in question,” and Manchin is “glad that all 50 Democrats agree.”
But the legislative move also opened the door to other major elements that died with BBB, including green energy provisions, extending subsidies for health care and tax reforms. Neither Manchin nor Schumer have publicly said about those aspects, only confirming that they’ve been talking.
The fact that Democrats are ready to bring the drug provisions to the chamber floor is a sign that Schumer believes those other elements are within reach. But it also reflects there will not be much time to move a package before the month-long August recess. Democrats would like to have at least one part of the package ready to go if Schumer can wrangle Manchin and others to agree on the separate elements.
If the drug measures pass muster with the parliamentarian, Democrats will have set up a popular bill to let Medicare negotiate specific drug prices, lower premiums for lower-income Medicare recipients, cap out-of-pocket costs at $2,000 a year, and institute rebates for inflation. The bill would also mandate the drug price negotiations to ensure a future Republican administration can’t just stop them, according to a summary reviewed by the News.
The bill would be a much-needed win ahead of an election season that looks grim for Democrats.
Word of a possible deal did not sit well with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who on Thursday, threatened to blockade a bipartisan bill to boost U.S. competitiveness against China if Democrats proceed with reconciliation. The bill, the United States Innovation and Competition Act, has long been a goal of Schumer’s. The House and Senate each passed differing versions, and were expected to pass a unified version soon.
McConnell declared the China competition bill would be dead if the attempt at the reconciliation bill proceeds.
“Let me be perfectly clear: there will be no bipartisan USICA as long as Democrats are pursuing a partisan reconciliation bill,” McConnell tweeted.
Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman fired back, “Sen. McConnell is so beholden to PhRMA [the drug industry] that he’s willing to help China, hurt American manufacturing, and screw over Americans with outrageously high Rx prices.”