For the past few weeks, we have been reporting that the Democratic majority in the Senate was going to try to pass a bill to lower prescription drug costs before Congress goes on its annual August recess.
We said that Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) had been working with Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to try and come up with a bill Manchin can support. Manchin had killed the earlier Democratic plan to lower drug prices as part of a much larger “Build Back Better” bill that President Biden had wanted Congress to pass.
Manchin complained that the bill would cost too much, and he wanted part of the legislation to go toward reducing the federal deficit, among other things.
We wrote that there were reports they had reached a tentative agreement on legislation to lower drug costs and extend the solvency of Social Security, but those items were part of a larger bill that was not finalized. That bill contained contentious details on energy spending and tax provisions that were still being negotiated, but Democrats had hoped to unveil deals on those last week.
However, it was revealed last Thursday that Manchin said he could no longer support the bill Democratic leaders thought they were close to finalizing, even though it met many of his earlier demands. He said his change of mind was due to surging inflation.
He then said he could support a smaller deal now that would lower prescription drug prices and bolster health care premiums or wait until later in the fall to see if inflation cools down. It is not clear if extending Social Security solvency as part of the smaller package is something he would support now.
Senate Democratic leaders must decide whether to accept his demands and pass the smaller bill now or wait 6 to 8 weeks to see where inflation is and then try to pass a larger bill so close to the November elections.
After the Manchin announcement, President Biden issued a statement calling on the Senate to pass health-care provisions that the caucus can get behind and that he would sign the legislation if it can pass Congress.
Manchin’s support is critical, of course, because every Democratic vote in the Senate is needed to pass the bill due to the fact that no Republican is expected to support it.
This development is very disappointing for all of us who have worked so hard for legislation to lower drug prices, but the fight is not over.