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Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) votes against drug-price control bill

U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City).

U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City). Credit: Barry Sloan

WASHINGTON — A key part of President Joe Biden's Build Back Better Act hit a roadblock in a House committee Wednesday when Rep. Kathleen Rice and two other moderate Democrats joined Republicans in voting against a popular drug-price control measure.

Rice, of Garden City, and Reps. Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Scott Peters of California carried through on their threat to vote against the measure on the third day of deliberations by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on its part of the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill.

The defection of the moderates illustrated the fraught path to passage for the enormous reconciliation package that would broadly expand the federal government’s social safety network.

Despite the setback, the measure that would allow the government to negotiate lower prices with pharmaceutical companies on expensive drugs to produce hundreds of billions of dollars in government savings could reemerge in the multifaceted process.

"Delivering lower drug costs is a top priority of the American people and will remain a cornerstone of the Build Back Better Act as work continues between the House, Senate and White House on the final bill," Henry Connelly, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said in a statement after the Energy and Commerce Committee vote.

Connelly said in an email that the House Ways and Means Committee, which has been working through its own piece of the massive reconciliation bill, passed a measure with language similar to the legislative language that failed Wednesday in Energy and Commerce.

Stressing importance of the drug-price control measure to the Democratic leaders, Connelly said, "Polling consistently shows immense bipartisan support for Democrats’ drug price negotiation legislation."

The measure would have another benefit — big savings that could help Democrats pay for other expensive health related programs they want to enact.

House Resolution 3, an earlier version of the drug-pricing legislation, would lower spending by about $456 billion over 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office estimated.

Rice did not comment publicly about her decision.

After her vote Wednesday, Rice's spokesman Stuart Malec referred to her statement Tuesday in which she said she did not support, "advancing policies that are not fiscally responsible and jeopardize the bill’s final passage."

Rice apparently was referring to other moderate Democratic concerns about Biden’s approach to lower drug prices.

Schrader and Peters have warned that "government-dictated prices" for drugs would undermine pharmaceutical innovation and development of badly needed new drugs, such as the vaccines for COVID-19, and could lead to layoffs.

Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America President and CEO Stephen J. Ubl a week ago dismissed Biden’s plan for negotiated pricing as "a laundry list of old partisan ideas and not a serious plan to address what patients pay out of pocket for prescription drugs."

But Patrick Gaspard, President of the Center for American Progress, a liberal Democratic advocacy group and think tank, said in opposing the drug-price measure, Peters, Rice and Schrader were "prioritizing drug company profits over lower drug prices for the American people, particularly for patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis."

"To the contrary of what they contend, their opposition to the drugs proposal threatens the entirety of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda," Gaspard said.

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