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Speaker Pelosi’s Sneak Attack on Drug Prices

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AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Liberal Democrats in Congress are trying to sneak provisions into the Coronavirus supplemental appropriations bill on drug pricing. This legislation intended to contain and fight the virus is very important and should be free of provisions that will not help America deal with the crisis. Some in Congress just can’t help themselves.

Congress is working through a supplemental bill right now to allocate new resources to protect America from the virus. The Hill reported on February 26, 2020, “Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is requesting $8.5 billion in emergency funding to combat the coronavirus.”  Schumer asked for swift action on this bill that includes $1.5 for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), $3 billion for an emergency fund and $2 billion for states and local governments. These are reasonable requests and make up the core of the supplemental bill that likely will change a bit as we learn more about the nature and scope of the Coronavirus threat to American citizens.

Now comes Schumer asking for price controls that will not do anything to help sick Americans and may inhibit the development of drugs created to fight the Coronavirus.

Democratic leaders are trying to use this emergency supplemental bill as leverage to impose price controls on drugs. Congress already has bipartisan legislation pending on the issue from Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) that has passed the Senate Finance Committee and is awaiting Senate action. The supplemental is not the place for this debate when Congress is already using regular procedures to have that debate.

Pelosi and Schumer are trying to bully Republicans into a risky strategy that will slow the bill and research on a vaccine. Roll Call reports that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are demanding that “vaccines are affordable and available to all that need it.”  This sounds reasonable, but the cost of production of these drugs may slow production if government price controls are promised on the front end of the development of a Coronavirus prevention drug. 

Republicans in Congress are complaining that this fight over drug pricing is slowing passage of the emergency appropriations bill. The Roll Call report indicated that “negotiators had hoped to seal a deal Tuesday but differences over language sought by Democrats to guarantee low prices for a coronavirus vaccine that's being developed with taxpayer funding are holding up the agreement.”  There are already laws on the books that prevent price gouging, yet the Democrats will not allow this bill to sail through Congress without a proxy fight on the issue of drug pricing and price controls. 

The drug companies have traditionally partnered with the federal government to search for vaccines to dangerous illness. There are no examples of pandemics where the drug companies have priced drugs in a way that nobody can afford the drugs. Basically, Schumer and Pelosi have created a solution in search of a non-existent problem. The goal of these progressives is to pull the fight over drug prices into this supplemental while using the Coronavirus panic to leverage a deal. They are attempting to sneak through new laws that impose government mandated drug prices on private enterprise – that is socialism and a gateway drug to Medicare-for-All.

Price controls are the core of socialism, because when the government controls the price, then they can control the supply and demand. Health and Human Services Administration Secretary Alex Azar has flirted with a version of price controls, yet he is pushing against the Pelosi and Schumer idea to impose price controls in the Coronavirus response. The Trump administration knows that price controls imposed when we are in a crisis could end up hurting people because of a delayed drug development.  

Congress should reject this effort by Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Schumer to slow the passage of the Coronavirus supplemental over drug pricing. If Democrats want to have that fight, more power to them, but don’t use this emergency legislation to leverage that fight. It is evident that this is merely a political ploy so that Democrats can use the drug pricing issue against Republicans this fall. 

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