Our new issue, “The Working Class,” is out in print and online now. Subscribe today and start reading.

The House Democrats Bought and Paid For by Big Pharma

Reps. Scott Peters, Kurt Schrader, and Kathleen Rice — Democrats all — give weak, incoherent responses to why they torpedoed a plan to let Medicare negotiate drug prices.

Representative Kathleen Rice (NY), has completely flipped her reasoning for why she voted against a measure to reduce drug prices. (Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)

Conservative Democratic representatives Scott Peters (CA) and Kurt Schrader (OR) have been defending their huge hauls of campaign cash from the pharmaceutical industry since announcing their opposition to House Democrats’ wildly popular plan to reduce drug prices. Meanwhile, another Democratic lawmaker, Representative Kathleen Rice (NY), has completely flipped her reasoning for why she voted against the measure.

Last week, Schrader, Peters, and Rice used their seats on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce to try to block House Democrats from allowing Medicare to use its bulk purchasing power to negotiate lower prescription drug prices as part of the party’s $3.5 trillion infrastructure reconciliation effort. The proposal has support from 90 percent of registered voters in their districts, according to a recent poll by Data for Progress.

Since their votes, Peters and Schrader have faced tough questions at home about the donations they’ve received from the pharmaceutical industry. Over the course of their careers, the congressmen have raised a combined $1.5 million from donors in the pharmaceutical and health products industries, according to data from OpenSecrets. Peters has been the top recipient of pharma cash in the House this election cycle.

“I’m Not Going to Unilaterally Disarm”

In a contentious Zoom meeting last Friday with health care reform advocates who live in his district, Peters refused to stop taking pharma money, according to a recording of the meeting provided by a Daily Poster subscriber.

“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,” said the congressman, who represents a solidly blue district.

Peters warned that if Democrats reject funds from corporate political action committees, companies will donate that money to Republicans instead. “I aim to win races and I’m totally in favor of changing the rules,” he said. “I will play the rules that apply, and when they change, I’ll play by those rules.”

Schrader, meanwhile, participated in a difficult interview with Portland’s local NBC network.

When he was asked why pharmaceutical companies give him so much money, Schrader said, “I don’t know. I get money from a lot of different interests out there.” He said that the companies don’t tell him why they’re contributing to his campaigns.

“That’s a kind of common fallacy,” he said. “I think that the average person has [this idea] that the reason they give you money is you say you’re going to vote for this or vote for that. I’ve never, ever done that, and I don’t know many legislators that do that. What they do is they just want to have access to at least plead their case.”

Peters and Schrader also defended their personal ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

Schrader reportedly received “a quite large inheritance” from his grandfather who was a senior executive at Pfizer. He said last week he’s “proud of the work my grandfather did and developing mass production for Pfizer.”

Peters’s wife is the CEO of an investment firm whose portfolio company provides manufacturing and packaging for pharmaceutical companies. He said last Friday that it’s “ridiculous” to believe he has a conflict of interest, explaining instead that he’s trying to protect the local life science industry in San Diego. “It’s about 68,000 jobs here,” he said. “And my job is to protect those jobs.”

“I Think That Destroys the Industry”

House Democrats’ drug pricing provision is based on H.R. 3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act — ​​a bill that the Congressional Budget Office found would save the government $456 billion over ten years and “reduce prices by 57 percent to 75 percent, relative to current prices” for various medicines.

House Democrats previously passed H.R. 3 in 2019 with zero opposition in the caucus. At that point, Peters, Schrader, and Rice all voted yes. Democratic leaders are now pushing to include the measure in President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion infrastructure package, known as the Build Back Better Act.

While Peters, Rice, and Schrader helped block the drug pricing provision from advancing in the Energy and Commerce Committee, a separate committee approved the same provision last week, so it can still be included in the reconciliation bill. But with Peters, Schrader, Rice, and Representative Stephanie Murphy (D-FA) already voting no on the measure, its prospects for passage are uncertain, since the party only has a four-seat majority in the House. Conservative senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) has indicated she also opposes the measure.

Schrader and Peters last week offered their own alternative drug pricing plan, backed by Rice, Murphy, and Representative Lou Correa (D-CA) Their proposal is much weaker than the plan favored by House Democratic leaders, as it would only allow Medicare to negotiate prices on older drugs that are off patent but don’t have any generic competition.

Peters told his constituents their plan would generate $200 billion in savings “using pharma profits.” He said that his fellow California Democratic representative Katie Porter “wants $450 billion out of pharma,” adding: “I think that destroys the industry. But $200 billion out of pharma, that’s nothing to shake a stick at.”

Schrader, for his part, said: “If pharma thinks they’re buying a vote, they’re getting a bad deal. This bill that [Peters] and I are offering, not only is it dangerous for pharma because it has a chance of passing, but it’s more complete and more in-depth.”

“I Support the Goals of H.R. 3”

Rice, the New York lawmaker who joined Peters and Schrader in opposing the drug pricing measure last week, has since been reduced to complete incoherence in trying to defend her vote.

She is now telling constituents she still supports the “goals” of the drug pricing legislation, and only voted no on the measure because Democrats sought to include it in the Biden infrastructure package — a very different explanation than the one she originally gave for her no vote.

“The Build Back Better Act will make a meaningful difference in the lives of my constituents on Long Island,” Rice said in a statement early last week. “I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and Senate to craft legislation that will be signed into law. I support many of the proposals being considered this week, but I do not support advancing policies that are not fiscally responsible and jeopardize the bill’s final passage.”

The implication from the statement was fairly obvious: Rice decided to oppose the drug pricing measure because she decided it was “not fiscally responsible” or that its inclusion would “jeopardize” final passage of the Build Back Better Act.

But last Friday, Rice’s office gave one of her constituents a totally different argument for why she voted against the drug pricing plan.

In a form letter email to a constituent, a Daily Poster subscriber, Rice wrote to “please know that I support the goals of H.R. 3.,” and claimed she only voted against the drug pricing policy because Democrats sought to include the measure in the Build Back Better Act.

Rice’s office gave the same explanation to another constituent, according to the American Prospect.

“As you know, on September 15, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a mark-up of the Build Back Better Act, the budget reconciliation bill currently being drafted in Congress,” Rice wrote in the email. “During the mark-up, there was a vote to include the H.R. 3 drug pricing language as part of the Build Back Better Act, and I voted no.”

She continued: “Unlike my past votes on H.R. 3, this vote was not on a clean, stand-alone bill. Instead, the H.R. 3 drug pricing language was being used as a tool to offset the cost of a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. That bill has no chance to become a law, as Democrats in the Senate have stated that a bill with such a price tag will not have the votes to pass in their chamber. That is why I did not support the inclusion of H.R. 3.”

While Rice originally expressed concern that the drug pricing plan could jeopardize final passage of the Build Back Better Act, which she said would make a “meaningful difference” in the lives of her constituents, she’s now telling people in her district that she still supports the drug pricing measure but voted against it because she doesn’t believe the Build Back Better Act can pass the Senate.

If Rice still supports the H.R. 3 language, it’s unclear why she just cosponsored the alternative drug pricing plan offered by Peters and Schrader.

A Rice spokesperson was adamant that the congresswoman’s constituent letter “is exactly in line with her statement before the vote.”

“She supports allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, and she voted for H.R. 3 twice before,” the spokesperson told the Daily Poster in an email. “But she does not support advancing policies in the reconciliation bill that are not fiscally responsible or could jeopardize its final passage in the Senate. That’s why she voted against advancing the H.R. 3 drug pricing language in the reconciliation bill.”

We asked the spokesperson to clarify which policies Rice believes would be fiscally irresponsible or jeopardize the reconciliation bill’s final passage, but did not receive a response.

On Wednesday, activists are planning to hold a rally in front of Rice’s district office to speak out “against high drug prices,” so she can “hear from people directly impacted by her decision.”