Key Senate Republican Bucks McConnell to Push for Drug Pricing

Laura Davison

(Bloomberg) -- Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley is ready to defy Congress’s most powerful Republican to advance a bill to lower prescription drug prices.

That would mean teaming up with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and nearly four dozen Senate Democrats. To round out this unlikely partnership, Grassley hopes President Donald Trump will back the effort.

The only problem is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Grassley said Tuesday that some of his Republican colleagues have resisted his legislation, which would penalize drugmakers who raise prices faster than inflation, because McConnell told them not to support it. However, Grassley said he expects more members to sign on as the 2020 election nears and Republicans seeking re-election hear from voters worried about health care costs.

“It’s my responsibility to get more Republican co-sponsors,” Grassley told reporters Tuesday. “We have the White House doing everything the White House can do on this issue, except the president speaking more about it.”

Members of both parties say lowering drug prices is a policy priority, and various proposals have been circulating in Congress. The House passed a bill earlier this month, but it was left out of a year-end government spending compromise with Republicans expected to pass this week.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration announced a proposal to buy less-expensive prescription medication imported from Canada, in another push to lower costs.

Grassley and Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, introduced their own proposal earlier this year to address the rising cost of prescription drugs. Although Trump hasn’t publicly backed the bill, Grassley says it aligns with other administration initiatives.

Grassley said almost all of the Senate’s 47 Democrats support this effort, which could smooth negotiations with the Democratic-led House to find a compromise that could pass both chambers.

“When you’ve got that sort of balanced approach, why not move ahead?” Grassley said.

Funding for several Medicaid and Medicare programs expires May 22, which the Iowa Republican said he’s using as a deadline to get negotiate a bill between the House and Senate.

However, Grassley added, passing this bill isn’t critical for Republicans to keep their Senate majority, where they now hold 53 seats.

“Don’t tell McConnell that,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura Davison in Washington at ldavison4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Anna Edgerton, John Harney

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