Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) speaks as Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) look on during a news conference discussing H.R. 3, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, on Capitol Hill on October 16, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Led by Pharma-Friendly Rep. Richard Neal, Democrats Crush Progressive Amendments to Signature Drug Pricing Bill

Neal has received over $670,000 in campaign cash from pharmaceutical companies since 2007, according to Kaiser Health News

Jake Johnson

Following the lead of pharma-friendly Rep. Richard Neal, Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee this week crushed several progressive amendments to a House drug pricing bill that would have expanded the number of medicines covered by the legislation and extended lower costs to the nation's tens of millions of uninsured.

The Intercept reported Wednesday that Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, warned his Democratic colleagues against offering any amendments to the Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019 (H.R. 3) during the committee's markup of the legislation on Tuesday.

"The chances that the typical patient will see their prices lowered are akin to winning the lottery. Is it so burdensome to ask that a few more drugs be done? No, it's not."
—Rep. Lloyd Doggett

"We intend to stick with the measure in front of us," Neal told The Hill.

But Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), the author of a more ambitious drug pricing bill that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in April brushed aside in favor of the more moderate H.R. 3, introduced amendments anyway during the marathon hearing.

If adopted, Doggett's amendments would have raised the minimum number of drugs the government would be required to negotiate under the legislation from 35 to 50 and guaranteed that the approximately 30 million people without health insurance in the U.S. would benefit from the lower negotiated rates.

"The chances that the typical patient will see their prices lowered are akin to winning the lottery," Doggett said. "Is it so burdensome to ask that a few more drugs be done? No, it's not."

Despite Doggett's plea, most House Democrats on the committee followed Neal's lead in rejecting the amendments. The legislation passed out of the Ways and Means Committee late Tuesday by a vote of 24-7-1, with Doggett the lone member voting present.

Under the current version of H.R. 3, it would take the government over 100 years to negotiate lower prices for all of the prescription drugs covered by Medicare, Doggett said in a document summarizing his issues with the bill.

"My objective is not to let the perfect get in the way of the good, but to ensure that the good we seek actually reaches those whom we serve," Doggett wrote in a Dear Colleague letter (pdf) in September. "In short, more work and amendments are needed to make H.R. 3 effective in achieving our shared objective of lowering drug prices for American families."

The Intercept's Aída Chavez reported that Neal "is one of the biggest beneficiaries" of campaign cash from the pharmaceutical and insurance industries.

"According to Kaiser Health News," Chavez noted, "he's received $670,100 in campaign contributions from pharmaceutical companies since 2007."

Chavez's colleague Ryan Grim was among those noting that Neal is currently facing a primary challenge from his left flank:

Donald Shaw, reporter with the investigative outlet Sludge, highlighted the slew of major pharmaceutical companies that have donated to Neal just this year:

As Common Dreams reported in June, progressives accused Pelosi of cutting them out of negotiations over the details of H.R. 3 and warned the bill would be far too soft on the pharmaceutical industry.

"If we don't address this in a big and bold way, a lot of us should go home and start knitting," Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters at the time.

Progressives were ultimately able to win minor concessions from leadership, such as raising from 25 to 35 the minimum number of drugs the government must negotiate under the bill.

When Pelosi finally unveiled the H.R. 3 in September, advocacy groups cautiously applauded the measure but said improvements would be necessary to make a significant dent in soaring drug prices.

"Fundamentally, high medicine prices are rooted in the monopoly powers our government grants to prescription drug corporations," Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen's Access to Medicines Program, said in a statement. "Making medicine affordable for everyone requires that we challenge this power."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Entirely Reckless': Critics Blast EU Plan to Boost Gas Infrastructure

"Deepening its own dependence on volatile fossil fuels" in response to Russia's attack on Ukraine, said one campaigner, "is the last thing Europe should be doing."

Jessica Corbett ·


Sanders Applauds Denton, Texas for Passing 100th Local Resolution Backing Medicare for All

"The way we will pass Medicare for All," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, "is by continuing to build a strong grassroots movement that is prepared to take on the big money interests."

Jake Johnson ·


US Military Clears Itself of Wrongdoing in Syria Strike That Killed 'Piles' of Women and Children

"It's the standard government line: Mistakes were made but there was no wrongdoing. But if the same mistakes were being made over and over again for years, shouldn't someone have done something about it?"

Brett Wilkins ·


House Progressives Urge Executive Action From Biden on Baby Formula 'Emergency'

"We have an infant hunger crisis looming," said Rep. Ayanna Pressley, "and a whole of government response is required."

Kenny Stancil ·


Plan to Discharge Fukushima Water Into Pacific Gets OK From Regulators

The discharge could release a number of radioactive isotopes into the Pacific Ocean, critics say.

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo