“I support many of the proposals being considered this week, but I do not support advancing policies that are not fiscally responsible and jeopardize the bill’s final passage,” Rice said.
The standoff came as the Energy and Commerce panel marked up its portion of the giant package set for passage using the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process. And the clash's result could determine if Democrats can spend as much as $700 billion in projected savings over a decade on other health policy priorities, like adding dental, vision and hearing benefits to Medicare, making enhanced Affordable Care Act subsidies permanent and offering Medicaid coverage to 2 million people in red states that have refused to expand the program.
But the Peters-led plan is a non-starter for progressives, who argue that it lets the drug industry off easy and would generate far less savings to apply to other health priorities.
As Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s members tussle, the uncertainty over drug pricing complicates her team's timeline for moving the social spending package through the House this month. Individual committees are supposed to report their portions to the House Budget Committee by Wednesday so the panel can begin assembling the legislation for floor action later this month.
Should Peters, Rice and Schrader join all the panel's Republicans in voting against the drug pricing section of the bill, preventing it from advancing out of committee, it would mark an embarrassment for leadership, after Democrats from President Joe Biden to Senate Budget Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) spent months vowing to lower out-of-pocket health spending for tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of people. Democrats noted, however, that if all else fails they could add the provisions back later in the process, when the committee’s whole package goes before the Budget Committee.
An Energy and Commerce Committee spokesperson said that efforts on the bill are “ongoing” and Pallone “continues to work to favorably report out all of the Committee’s reconciliation legislative recommendations.”
Still, many Democrats are worried.
Schrader has already signaled that he’s likely to vote against the committee’s bill. Democrats are still trying to win over Peters and Rice, who have privately threatened to oppose just the drug pricing portion of the legislation.
“It’s not looking good,” an aide to one Democrat on the committee told POLITICO, predicting that the whole drug pricing section of the bill won’t be able to advance. “As it stands with votes, it looks like the window on this is closing.”