Democrats Are on the Verge of Blowing Their Drug Pricing Promise | Opinion

As Democrats in the House, Senate and White House negotiate the final contents of their Build Back Better plan, they're on the verge of blowing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to lower drug prices for families. And with it, their 2022 election prospects.

Democrats across the country have campaigned on lowering the cost of prescription drugs for more than a decade. With good reason—Americans pay more for our prescription drugs than every other country in the world. And these high prices have had real, and sometimes deadly, consequences for too many people.

Leadership from Democrats on this issue has built a groundswell of support: lowering prescription drug prices is one of the most popular actions Congress could take, with support from nearly every single American, regardless of political party. And that support has undoubtedly helped more Democrats get elected, as voters are more likely to support candidates that run on lowering drug prices.

But now that they have control of Congress and the White House, Democrats are on the verge of blowing their only opportunity to deliver on a decade of promises.

The House's proposal to lower drug prices, HR3, passed in 2019 with unanimous Democratic support, and is a major priority of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And the bill's major provisions have support from Democrats in the Senate, having been endorsed over the summer by the Senate Finance Committee, which is responsible for the policy in that chamber.

Despite the support by the vast majority of Democrats in both chambers of Congress, a vote last week on HR3 failed to advance out of the Energy & Commerce Committee as a small group of Democrats changed their previous votes to oppose the policy. And negotiations between the White House and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate on the final bill text includes a push by some to water down the policy, or to eliminate it entirely.

Bottles of prescription drugs
Bottles of prescription drugs are ready for packaging and shipping. George Frey/Getty Images

But why would some Democrats go against priorities that propelled us into the majority? Because Big Pharma is spending unfathomable amounts of money on ads and other lobbying tactics aimed at these Democrats. The industry spent more than $300 million on lobbying Congress last year. And in a sign of just how brazen the pay-for-play is, the industry's leading lobbyist, PhRMA, sent California Congressman Scott Peters' campaign a check for $20,000 the day after he sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi announcing his opposition to HR3.

Democrats must not fold to Big Pharma. It's not just bad policy, it's bad politics.

If Democrats water down HR3, fewer Americans will feel the effects of the policy that we've fought for so long to pass. It's the same reason that it's smart politics for presidents to put their names on stimulus checks—people support elected officials when they see a tangible difference in their lives. If their drug prices don't change when they go to the pharmacy, after Democrats' core policy message has been that they're lowering costs for families, Americans will lose faith in Democratic elected officials' ability to deliver on their promises.

With Republican gerrymandering and voting restrictions making it harder than ever for Democrats to win elected office, we can't afford to squander one of the most significant opportunities we've had in a generation to show people why voting for Democrats matters.

Nearly every single American wants Democrats to lower the cost of prescription drugs. If Democrats compromise on their drug pricing legislation, and voters don't feel the benefits of lower costs for insulin and other essential drugs, then they risk losing their majorities in Congress.

Democrats have to decide whether they're going to stand up for the American people by advancing legislation to meaningfully lower drug prices, or fold to Big Pharma lobbying pressure and hand power back to the Republicans for the foreseeable future.

Caroline Behringer is a progressive communications strategist and previous senior advisor to Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.