House Democrats pass bill to lower prescription drug costs, dramatically improve Medicare

In a 230-192 vote, the House passed legislation to reduce prescription drug costs, a bill renamed the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act to honor the recently deceased Maryland congressman. The bill received a last-minute and drastic improvement when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to proposals from the Congressional Progressive Caucus to increase the number of drugs Medicare could negotiate prices for, and to protect employer-sponsored insurance plans from drug price hikes.

The proposal originally allowed for Medicare to negotiate prices on 35 drugs, but thanks to the CPC intervention, it's now a minimum of 50 drugs. Prices would be capped to 120% of what they sell for in other wealthy nations, and those prices can be negotiated down further. The lower prices would also apply to private insurance. And if a drug company refused to negotiate, it could be hit with up to a 95% tax on revenue for the drug in question.

“What I hear most often is not impeachment, it's not what's on the front page of The Washington Post, it's 'What are you going to do about the cost of our prescription drugs?'" said Rep. Kim Schrier, a freshman from Washington state and the only female physician in the House, as well as a type 1 diabetic. "And this bill is an answer to my constituents." Democrats also pointed out that they were fulfilling another key campaign promise from someone else.

”It's exactly what President Trump promised on the campaign trail," Rep. Andy Levin of Michigan said. And it is, but that doesn't mean Trump will support it, and it certainly doesn't mean Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will allow it to get anywhere near the Senate floor.

That's despite the fact that the Congressional Budget Office says it would lower drug costs by about 50% on the negotiated drugs and would also save Medicare $456 billion over 10 years. The bill would return those savings to expand Medicare benefits to include hearing, dental, and vision care. This would be a massive win for seniors. But McConnell and Trump aren't going to let it happen. That’s one more reason to take the whole shebang of elected government back in 2020.

Judiciary Committee resumes hearing to send Articles of Impeachment to full House

The Thursday hearing to hear and vote on the articles of impeachment against Donald Trump might have been relatively brief. Except, of course, Republicans have dragged out the hearing all day by offering a series of ludicrous amendments—such as striking the whole first article, or inserting an entire conspiracy theory into the text. The hearing has already taken long enough that, right on cue, Republicans moved to making complaints about all the “time wasted that could be spent on other things” … right before Nadler put the committee on hold so they could move to the floor and vote on other things.

Through seemingly endless rounds of parliamentary “move to strike the last word” and “point of order” and insisting for roll calls for clearly defeated amendments, Republicans have stayed on task—which is lying. In particular, Thursday’s hearing has been a day for absolutely lying about Joe Biden and his actions in Ukraine. Rep. John Ratcliffe may have gone the deepest into absolute, knowing, nothing-but-lies statements in claiming that Biden sacked a prosecutor engaged in investigating the company where his son worked. Ratcliffe was also the first Republican to finally go on record saying that sure, it’s fine to solicit foreign interference in a U.S. election. 

But it was Matt Gaetz who, as he so often does, provided the tragicomic relief. Gaetz went out of his way to read into the record an article claiming that Hunter Biden had a drug problem and talked about claims that a car crash was drug-related. Following which Democrat Hank Johnson responded by saying. “The pot calling the kettle black is not something we should do.” Johnson said he didn’t know which of his collegues had drug issues or DUIs, but said that if he knew of such problems, it’s not “something I would bring up.” Matt Gaetz was arrested for a DUI.

That didn’t stop what might have been Gaetz’ absolutely best moment. Still eager to get more salacious information about Hunter Biden into the public record, Gaetz read from his divorce proceedings. As he did so, Gaetz tried to make gifts received by Hunter Biden seem extravagant and capped it by saying, “Corrupt people, they don't just steal once. They get into the habit of corruption." This statement came a day after Donald Trump was forced to pay a $2 million fine for his fake charity. Which followed the $25 million fine he paid over his fake university. Which followed his $10 million fine for money laundering at his casino. Spot on, Mr. Gaetz, spot on.

Sometime this afternoon, assuming Republicans tire of throwing up pointless amendments, we should finally get to the vote.

Thursday, Dec 12, 2019 · 7:45:00 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner Republican Rep. Buck starts off the afternoon saying that Republicans were sent there to “obstruct” Congress. Because Congress had such a low rating and ran up such high deficits.  That would have been the Republican Congress. The one Democrats were sent to replace in 2018. Buck also notes that Republicans were sent there to stop things like a provision giving federal employees family leave. Which was included in the bill Republicans already signed off on without noticing. So ... good job, guys. Thursday, Dec 12, 2019 · 7:46:36 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Lesko continues the claims against Biden. I’d be happy if someone took just a moment to point out again that Shokin was not, Not, NOT investigating Burisma when Biden asked for his removal.

It also wouldn’t hurt to mention that a collection of Republican Senators wrote a letter to Obama to request his removal, specifically attaching that action to Ukraine aid.

Thursday, Dec 12, 2019 · 7:47:57 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Nadler: “When I hear colleagues arguing that Congress is unpopular, and therefore obstruction of Congress is a good thing, it shows terrible ignorance.” 

Cool beans, Jerry.

Thursday, Dec 12, 2019 · 7:51:13 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Here’s what Trump actually says in his phone call:

Trump: “There's a lot of talk about Biden's son. That Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you ·can look into it ... It sounds horrible to me.”

Gaetz amendment requires that Joe Biden isn’t the target of the Trump’s demand. Which is ludicrous on its face.

Thursday, Dec 12, 2019 · 7:58:01 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Why is C-SPAN’s camera stuck looking at Louie Gohmert? Are we not being tortured enough already?

Under-siege Dems in Trump districts keep impeachment decision close to the vest

An all but inevitable House floor vote to impeach President Trump is poised to come down to a few dozen moderate Democrats who, under heavy and sustained pressure from both sides of the debate, are staying steadfastly mum on how they'll vote. 

House passes bill requiring drug price negotiations

House Democrats overcame infighting within their ranks to deliver on a key campaign promise Thursday, passing a bill that for the first time would require the government to negotiate prices for costly drugs and securing a legislative achievement they can highlight in the 2020 election.

The measure passed 230-192, with two Republicans breaking ranks to support the measure.

The sweeping legislation delivers a long-sought Democratic priority that’s repeatedly run up against opposition from Republicans and powerful drug industry interests. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already ruled out taking up the package.

President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats had both made a priority of addressing rising drug prices this year. But the impeachment proceedings and disagreements over the bill’s core elements doused any chance of cooperation. Trump has vowed to veto the measure in the unlikely event it would reach his desk.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi's effort to draft the legislation, meanwhile, sparked months of discord within the Democratic caucus over the bill’s scope, culminating in a showdown earlier this week between House leadership and progressives who threatened to stall the bill — a rebellion Pelosi and her deputies narrowly averted through a series of last-minute changes.

Democratic leaders nonetheless touted the legislation as an historic step toward cracking down on skyrocketing drug prices, and a warning shot at a pharmaceutical industry that, until now, has largely escaped serious congressional scrutiny over its rule in driving up the cost of medicines.

“We’ve been trying to do this for a number of years. Today we will,” Pelosi said on the House floor. “We’re finally giving Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices.”

The bill amounts to a blueprint for the sweeping action that Democrats could take with unified control of Washington in 2021, lawmakers said in the run-up to the vote. It would mandate that the government negotiate the price of at least 25 Medicare Part D drugs annually, ultimately requiring federal officials to hammer out the cost of at least 50 medicines a year. Commercial insurers could also take advantage of the deals.

A separate set of provisions would limit drug manufacturers’ ability to annually hike prices in Medicare, forcing them to rebate the portion of the increase that is above the rate of inflation. The bill envisions eventually expanding that requirement to the private sector under language that progressives led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal secured in negotiations with Pelosi just 48 hours ahead of the vote.

The legislation would also place a first-ever cap on out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries.

Democrats directed the bulk of the bill’s projected savings toward an ambitious expansion of Medicare benefits that would extend dental, vision and hearing coverage to seniors. Additional investments are earmarked for federal research agencies like the National Institutes of Health, and efforts to slow the opioid epidemic.

The Congressional Budget Office predicted that the legislation overall would lower federal spending by $456 billion over a decade, with the expansion of Medicare benefits costing the government roughly $358 billion over a decade.

However, the bill is also projected to curtail drugmakers' ability to launch new drugs — a point that Republicans contend will harm efforts to cure major diseases. The industry would launch eight fewer drugs over the first decade under the legislation, CBO said, and 30 fewer over the subsequent decade due to lost pharmaceutical revenues that would eat into research and development.

That poses a "dangerous trade-off" between lower drug prices and new medicines, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, argued on the House floor ahead of the vote. "Drugs prices are too high in many cases. There is no excuse for these prices spikes, none at all. But I'll tell you what: the costliest drug ever is the one that is never created," he said.

By comparison, roughly 300 new drugs are approved every decade. A Republican-led effort to replace Pelosi’s bill with a bundle of narrower bipartisan measures was rejected Thursday in a 223-201 vote, largely along party lines.

Moderate Democrats and some Republicans have insisted that there is still an opportunity to craft separate bipartisan legislation lowering drug prices, pointing to broad areas of agreement like capping out-of-pocket costs in Medicare and political support on both sides of the aisle for reining in pharmaceutical companies.

But the path to passing Pelosi’s sweeping drug pricing legislation highlighted the steep odds facing any compromise involving a diverse Democratic Party with conflicting ideas how best to position itself ahead of the 2020 election, and a GOP that has made defending Trump the centerpiece of its agenda over the next 11 months.

Top White House aides met in secret with Pelosi for months in search of a bipartisan path on drug pricing, fueled by Trump’s fixation on slashing prices and the urgings of vulnerable Democrats who viewed the issue as key to securing reelection and retaining control of the House.

Despite early vows from top Democrats to quickly pass a drug pricing bill, the high-level talks delayed meaningful progress for months. It also frustrated the vocal progressive wing, which saw little promise in negotiating with a mercurial president known for abruptly blowing up delicate negotiations.

The effort drove a further wedge through the caucus during the summer months, as top Democratic lawmakers and aides — led by top Pelosi health adviser Wendell Primus — crafted the sweeping legislation with little input from rank-and-file lawmakers.

The result was a far-reaching proposal that sought to impose harsh new regulations on the drug industry, broadly expand the government’s power and make good on years of progressive promises to lower drug prices.

Yet it has also left both sides of the Democratic caucus unsatisfied, stopping well short of liberals’ goal of allowing the government to negotiate the price of every single drug, and vexing moderates who privately lament they had little ownership over a signature Democratic health bill that now risked being overtaken by the party’s high-stakes march toward impeachment.

Even so, Democrats in the hours ahead of the vote rallied behind the bill as essential keeping control of the House and eventually win back the White House and Senate.

Trump made vague promises to cut drug prices during his 2016 campaign, House leaders argued — and Democrats are aiming to seize control of the pivotal 2020 issue by taking substantive action.

“I believe we need real, substantive reforms,” said Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), a freshman who flipped her Orange County district last year, "and for a while, so did our president.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Posted in Uncategorized

Tensions flare as GOP Rep. Gaetz brings Hunter Biden’s drug past into impeachment debate

The House Judiciary Committee's impeachment proceedings turned deeply personal and acrimonious on Thursday as Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., brought up Hunter Biden’s past substance abuse issues and Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., shot back by alluding to Gaetz’s own past arrest for drunk driving. 

Prosecutors seek to revoke bail of GOP insider Lev Parnas after $1M payment from Russia discovered

U.S. attorneys have asked that bail be revoked for Rudy Giuliani associate and Republican fundraiser Lev Parnas after learning that he received over $1 million from Russia. That money, which was paid into an account controlled by Parnas’ wife shortly before his arrest, was not revealed to prosecutors when Parnas’ bail was granted following his October arrest.

As The Wall Street Journal reports, prosecutors filed a letter in federal court on Wednesday evening asking that Parnas’ bail be revoked. The $1 million lump sum from Russia is listed as part of more than $1.5 million from unlisted sources in Russia and Ukraine. Parnas’ attorneys have asked for time to respond.

Parnas and frequent partner Igor Fruman were indicted on a raft of charges, including the use of a front company to disguise illegal foreign campaign payments that were funneled to Republican candidates across the country at both state and federal levels. Those who benefited from money coming from these illegal funds—funds that appear to tie back to an oligarch who is part of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle—include Kevin McCarthy, Devin Nunes, and other Republicans taking part in the impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump.

Since that initial indictment, it has been made clear that the case is still wide open, with additional charges—and additional individuals—likely to join the case. Multiple sources have indicated that those under scrutiny include Giuliani. Giuliani himself received at least $500,000 that was directed through an LLC controlled by Parnas. It’s unclear just how much money Giuliani has taken through his involvement in Ukraine, or who is funding his ongoing efforts to find Ukrainians willing to help out with Trump’s corrupt investigations into his political opponents.

Parnas has provided some documents to the House Intelligence Committee in response to a subpoena after a court ruling freed his attorneys to release information. Fruman has refused to produce any material.

When they were arrested, Parnas and Fruman were attempting to fly to Vienna. Giuliani was supposed to meet them there later the same day, but halted his flight following the arrest. Vienna is home base to Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash, who has been indicted in the United States and whom Australian officials had cleared for extradition. However, the United States mysteriously stopped seeking to deport Firtash following Trump’s election. As with the halting of approved aid to Ukraine, the White House has been absolutely silent when asked by both Democratic and Republican officials about its refusal to go after Firtash.

Vienna is also the location to which, Parnas reported, Rep. Devin Nunes went, along with assistants, to research Ukrainian corruption and meet with former Ukrainian officials. Nunes has denied that those meetings occurred, and even denied being in Vienna— even though congressional expense reports contradict his claims.

‘Pot calling the kettle black’: Rep. Gaetz gets scolded for bringing up Hunter Biden’s substance abuse

Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of President Donald Trump's fiercest defenders, set off a dust-up during the Judiciary Committee's markup of articles of impeachment when he brought up Hunter Biden's history of substance abuse, prompting a Democratic colleague to scold him.

The remarkable exchange took place when Gaetz (R-Fla.) introduced an amendment that would have stricken former Vice President Joe Biden’s name from one of the articles and inserted that of his son Hunter Biden and Burisma, the Ukrainian natural gas company on whose board he sat.

Trump is accused by Democrats of abusing his office by pressuring Ukraine to publicly commit to corruption investigations into the Bidens and Burisma while withholding nearly $400 million in military aid for the country.

As proof of his assertion that Hunter Biden was "corrupt" and unqualified to sit on Burisma’s board at all, much less with a five-figure monthly paycheck he was reportedly collecting, Gaetz held up Biden’s much-documented struggles with substance abuse.

Gaetz quoted a New Yorker profile of Hunter from July that described Hunter Biden wandering through a homeless encampment in Los Angeles in search of cocaine and an instance in which a rental car company said it found a crack pipe in a car Biden had returned.

The Florida congressman, a firebrand on the right, was quick to note that he was not looking to pass judgment on Biden.

“I don't want to make light of anybody's substance abuse issues.” he said, pointing to Trump’s efforts to combat the opioid epidemic. “But it's a little hard to believe that Burisma hired Hunter Biden to resolve their international disputes when he could not resolve his own dispute with Hertz rental car leaving cocaine and a crack pipe in the car.”

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) then spoke up to oppose Gaetz’s amendment, but not before taking a pointed swipe at his colleague’s own run-in with the law. Gaetz was arrested in 2008 on suspicion of DUI, declining a breathalyzer test and a field sobriety test, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The charges against Gaetz were later dropped, and he was never convicted.

“I would say that the pot calling the kettle black is not something that we should do,” Johnson said, prompting laughter to break out in the hearing room.

“I don't know what members, if any, have had any problems with substance abuse, been busted in DUI, I don't know,” he continued, shooting a glance in Gaetz’s direction. “But if I did, I wouldn't raise it against anyone on this committee. I don't think it's proper.”

Cameras showed Gaetz watching Johnson, expressionless, and looking down as the Georgia lawmaker concluded his scolding. Johnson then continued with a criticism of Gaetz’s amendment, asking Gaetz whether it’s “ever OK for a president of the United States of America to invite foreign interference in an upcoming presidential election campaign.”

The lawmakers stared at each other, silently, from across the dais for 17 seconds before Johnson moved on with his argument.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Posted in Uncategorized