Biden Pushes Drug Pricing Reform; Hopes To Keep Dems In On Infrastructure
CBS - 5 WKRG (Mobile, AL)
WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden called on Congress to move his $3.5 trillion plan forward that would among other things, lower the cost of prescription drugs.
"There aren't a lot of things that almost every American could agree on," Biden said during a speech Thursday. "But I think it is safe to say that all of us, whatever our background or our age and where we live, could agree that prescription drug prices are outrageously expensive in America."
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Three specifics of the plan would be allowing Medicare representatives to negotiate on prices wirth drug makers, putting a cap on how much seniors pay out of pocket and increase the number of more affordable generic drugs available.
"These prices have put the squeeze on too many families, and stripped them of their dignity. They've been forced, forced people into terrible choices between maintaining their health, paying their rent or their mortgage, putting food on the table. I mean, literally," Biden said.
The prices of drugs have skyrocketed in recent years.
Prices for insulin and Multiple Sclerosis medication have jumped 1,200% and 1,000% respectively since the 90's.
Biden overcame skepticism, deep political polarization and legislative gamesmanship to win bipartisan approval in the Senate this week of his $1 trillion infrastructure bill.
But as the bill moves to consideration in the House on Aug. 23 alongside a $3.5 trillion budget that achieves the rest of Biden's agenda, the president is facing an even more complicated task. He must keep a diverse, sometimes fractious Democratic Party in line behind the fragile compromises that underpin both measures.
If Biden and Democratic leaders in Congress hope to succeed with what they've called a two-track legislative strategy, the months ahead will almost certainly be dominated by a tedious balancing act. With exceedingly slim majorities in Congress, Biden can't afford many defections in a party whose members include moderates and progressives.
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"Is it going to be easy?" Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday. "Absolutely not. But if past is prologue, we got a chance - a decent chance."
The trouble has been brewing for months. In a May 17 letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Schumer, a group of 59 House Democrats referred to new investments in the range of $7 trillion to $9.5 trillion.
The Senate Democrats also had their share of members with concerns.
In a letter to leadership, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, one of two high-profile moderate senators, expressed misgivings about the size of the $3.5 trillion package.
"It is simply irresponsible to continue spending at levels more suited to respond to a Great Depression or Great Recession - not an economy that is on the verge of overheating," Manchin said in a statement. He urged colleagues "to seriously consider this reality as this budget process unfolds."
At the same time, progressives in the House, fresh off forcing the administration's hand on reviving a moratorium on evictions, have made clear they see a moment to wield power.
With no votes to spare in the evenly split 50-50 Senate and a slim margin in the House, any single senator or a few representatives could deny Biden the majority he needs for passage. Knowing that they must appease all in their party, Biden and the Democratic congressional leadership have pushed to simultaneously pursue the infrastructure and budget bills.
Biden on Wednesday seemed to take aim at the moderates' concerns that his plan would pump too much money into the economy, declaring that his agenda was "a long-term investment" and "fiscally responsible."
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The president portrayed the package not as economic stimulus, but as a more substantial reworking of the support provided for child care, elder care and other aspects of American life.
"If your primary concern right now is the cost of living, you should support this plan, not oppose it," the president said.
From Biden's blueprint, the package will essentially rewire the social safety net and expand the role of government across industries and livelihoods, on par with Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal or Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society. White House aides are encouraged that, so far, both the liberals and moderates have engaged in mere saber rattling with no red lines drawn.
"We have a diverse caucus, from Bernie Sanders, we have Joe Manchin, and everybody in between," Schumer said. "There are some in my caucus who might believe it's too much. There are some in my caucus we believe it's too little. We are going to all come together to get something done."