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Grassley calls on Trump to make stronger push for Senate drug pricing bill

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, wants President Donald Trump to do more to urge Republicans to back a bipartisan bill aimed at lowering prescription medicine costs for Medicare beneficiaries.

"The White House is fully behind our bill, but we need the president speaking up more," Grassley told reporters on Jan. 8 about the legislation, which was adopted by the committee in July 2019.

SNL ImageSen. Chuck Grassley
Source: AP Photo

The Iowa senator said it would also be helpful if the White House facilitated conversations between the authors of the Senate Finance Committee bill — Grassley and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the ranking member — and the leaders of the U.S. House.

The House adopted Speaker Nancy Pelosi's drug pricing bill — H.R. 3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act — on Dec. 12, 2019, in a 230 to 192 vote. Two Republicans joined all House Democrats in passing the measure.

Pelosi's bill would permit the federal government to negotiate the prices of the most expensive prescription drugs on behalf of the Medicare program and the commercial insurance market. The Senate Finance Committee bill does not include negotiations.

After more than 100 drugmakers raised the prices of their medicines on Jan. 1, Pelosi called on the Senate to pass her bill.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he has no plans to ever bring up Pelosi's bill for a vote in his chamber and declared it dead on arrival.

McConnell has also been reluctant to bring up the Grassley-Wyden bill for a vote in the Senate.

At the briefing, Grassley said if his bill was brought up for a Senate vote, it would be adopted.

"We would have at least 60 votes," the Senate Finance Committee chairman said.

Grassley said that calculation came from the 19 senators in the committee voting in favor of the bill plus "other people have told me they like what we are doing but they haven't signed up yet."

He declined to name those other senators. Nine Republicans on the finance panel had voted against the legislation. It is unclear how many of the 60 senators Grassley said now back his bill are from his party or are Democrats.

In mid-December 2019, Grassley told reporters that McConnell had asked other Republicans not to support the Senate Finance Committee leaders' bill.

But at the Jan. 8 briefing, Grassley said he had the "responsibility to get more Republican co-sponsors."

"It's my job to make the job of the majority leader a lot easier," he said. "I've got to get more Republicans signing up on our bill."

Grassley said he plans to talk to Republicans "one-on-one like I've done already."

But he emphasized "that's only part of it" and that Trump needed to get more involved.

Seeking Pelosi's help

A day earlier, Grassley had called on Pelosi to set aside her efforts in trying to get the Senate to adopt her drug pricing bill and instead have her chamber pass the Senate Finance Committee's legislation.

SNL ImageHouse Speaker Nancy Pelosi
Source: AP Photo

He said the House bill had no chance of getting the 60 votes needed in the Senate.

"If she could see her way to see Wyden-Grassley legislation get through the House of Representatives, then that brings pressure on the leadership of the United States Senate to get our bill up, because there's no other bill that can get the 60 votes that's required," the senator said during a Jan. 7 appearance on CNBC's Squawk Box.

Grassley said he was "not in a position to say" Pelosi should drop her bill.

"But I am in a position to say that I believe it can't get 60 votes in the United States Senate," he said. "That doesn't say she doesn't have a legitimate right to be at the table and work things out. We have gone a long ways to show what can be done between Wyden and Grassley."

The Senate Finance Committee leaders' bill is "the only one that has [the] possibility of doing something on prescription drugs between now and the election," he said.

Grassley reminded Republicans that 22 senators in their party are up for reelection in November.

Drugmakers' strength

While Grassley said it showed "strength in our position" that House Republicans had tried in December 2019 to put forward an alternative to Pelosi's bill a measure that failed he criticized that legislation as showing "the strength of big pharma," because it left out the Senate Finance Committee bill's provision that would require drugmakers to pay rebates to Medicare if the companies increase their prices faster than inflation.

Pelosi's bill includes a similar requirement.

That is the "one thing in our bill big pharma doesn't like," Grassley said.

Several Republicans have said the provision would be imposing price controls on biopharmaceutical manufacturers.

But Grassley said "there's no way you would get any Democrats to vote" for the Senate Finance Committee bill without it.