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Democrats Doing Big Pharma’s Bidding Are Being Rewarded

House Democrats say they aren’t sabotaging their party’s drug pricing plan. But their recent donation hauls from Big Pharma suggest otherwise.

A protest held in San Diego urging Representative Scott Peters to support lowering drug prices. (Jerod Harris / Getty Images for Protect Our Care)

The pharma-funded Democrats working to stop their party’s plan to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices say they are being misrepresented. Amid outcry from their constituents, these lawmakers have been indignantly telling local voters they are the people who are truly fighting for lower drug prices — even as they block their party’s promised drug pricing legislation. Now, new campaign finance disclosures show that their bait and switch happened as they raked in tens of thousands in campaign cash from pharmaceutical industry donors aiming to keep medicine prices as high as possible.

Representatives Scott Peters (D-CA) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR) voted last month to block Democrats from including their signature drug pricing measure in President Joe Biden’s health care and anti-poverty reconciliation bill, after voting for the same measure in 2019.

In response to constituent protest over their votes against the measure, the lawmakers claimed publicly that they are pursuing a more realistic means of lowering drug prices by proposing a watered-down version of the Democrats’ legislation — and insisted that they’re not doing the bidding of corporate interests.

Peters and Schrader are among the few Democratic representatives who are publicly opposing the party’s plan to give Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices. The measure is one of the most popular provisions of the reconciliation bill and has been a key campaign issue for Democrats.

This year between July and September, Schrader and Peters, whose campaigns have consistently relied on pharmaceutical industry cash, received $47,900 and $30,500, respectively from drug industry donors and executives at investment firms with pharmaceutical interests, according to new campaign finance disclosures reviewed by the Daily Poster. The two were among four Democratic lawmakers who voted against the party’s drug pricing plan in House committees on September 15.

Democrats’ Medicare drug negotiation plan has faced problems in the Senate as well. Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who has played the role of key obstructionist in the chamber, received $100,000 from pharmaceutical interests in the third quarter this year. Other reported holdouts on the measure, Senators Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Tom Carper of Delaware, received $34,400 and $34,000 from drug industry donors over the same period.

“The Easy Political Route”

Democrats’ plan to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices is based on the party’s signature drug pricing bill, H.R. 3. The measure would allow health care regulators to negotiate lower prices on dozens of high-priced drugs that don’t have generic equivalents, as well as insulin. Right now, without this power, Americans are paying the highest prescription drug prices in the world, even though the government provides billions in taxpayer funding each year to subsidize drug companies’ research and development efforts.

Peters and Schrader both voted yes on H.R. 3 in 2019, before the legislation stalled in the Republican-led Senate. Sinema, for her part, campaigned on lowering drug prices in 2018. Now that Democrats control the presidency and both houses of Congress, the lawmakers are trying to make sure Democrats do not include the measure in President Joe Biden’s health care, climate, and anti-poverty reconciliation spending bill.

Schrader and Peters have instead proposed their own, substantially weaker drug pricing legislation that would affect far fewer drugs and will save the government $200 billion according to the lawmakers, far less than the estimated $700 billion in savings from the original provision.

Last week, in San Diego, Peters’s constituents called him out for voting against H.R. 3 and “stonewalling progress” on the issue in Congress. Peters’s office shot back in a statement, saying his views were being “misrepresented” and that Democrats’ drug pricing legislation previously “failed to get the majority support needed to become law.” Of course, Democrats didn’t have full control of the government then, as they do now.

“If anyone thinks this is the easy political route for me, that’s just laughable,” Peters told the New York Times last week. But as the Daily Poster reported, Peters recently told constituents he cannot start rejecting pharmaceutical industry donations, politically speaking.

“I’m not going to unilaterally disarm and defund my campaign so that Republicans can win, I just think that’s a dumb thing to do,” Peters said, despite representing a safely Democratic district.

As Peters was chiding his constituents for demanding he let them pay less for drugs, he was also reaping Big Pharma’s rewards: new campaign contributions from pharmaceutical companies’ political action committees, including those associated with Johnson & Johnson, Regeneron, AbbVie, Genentech, GlaxoSmithKline, and Viatris.

Peters also took a $1,000 donation from Jeff Ricchetti, the brother of White House adviser Steve Richetti who has been lobbying the White House on behalf of pharmaceutical companies.

In Oregon, Peters’s colleague Schrader has also faced outrage for his vote on H.R. 3 and his past donations from the pharmaceutical industry. “We are writing to you to express our collective outrage about your recent vote against the Biden Medicare drug price negotiation plan,” a coalition of advocacy groups wrote in a letter to the Congressman.

Schrader has said that claims that he is against Medicare drug price negotiations are “false,” touting his support of a watered-down alternative, which he said will make drugs more affordable “without stifling innovation, whereas H.R. 3 poses a significant risk to our ability to find future cures,” according to a letter sent to constituents. But his votes tell another story, as does the nearly $50,000 his campaign received from pharmaceutical interests last quarter.

“What’s Best for Arizona”

While Sinema has not spoken publicly about her opposition to Democrats’ drug pricing plan, she and her office have continued to insist that she wants to lower drug prices.

“I believe that my colleagues and I should be focused on policies that ensure prescription drugs are available at the lowest cost possible,” Sinema told the Arizona Republic last month.

As the Daily Poster previously reported, Sinema has recently benefited from a TV and radio ad campaign in Arizona launched by a dark money group heavily funded by Big Pharma, in addition to a new influx of drug industry cash to her campaign.

Sinema spokesperson John LaBombard told HuffPost Wednesday the pharmaceutical industry money isn’t influencing her.

“Senator Sinema makes every decision based on one criteria: what’s best for Arizona,” he said.