Schumer announces deal on prescription drug prices, key obstacle to mega-bill

WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said on Tuesday Democrats had reached an agreement on reducing the costs of prescription drugs, especially for the elderly, one of the major party disputes in the $ 1.75 trillion safety net bill.

“I am pleased to report that an agreement has been reached to reduce the prices of prescription drugs for seniors and families as part of the Build Back Better legislation,” Schumer said after a Democratic caucus meeting. “The pricing of prescription drugs has always been a major problem for Americans year after year, including the vast majority of Democrats and Republicans.”

Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., A key holdout, approved the deal.

She “welcomes a new agreement on a historic and transformative Medicare drug negotiation plan,” spokesman John LaBombard said, adding that it “will reduce out-of-pocket expenses for the elderly – ensuring that drug prices cannot rise faster than inflation – save taxpayers’ money, and protect innovation. “

Schumer said he hopes to start debate on the bill, a crucial item on President Joe Biden’s agenda, on November 15.

Earlier Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Predicted the party could resolve its differences over the bill “by the end of the day.”

Pelosi celebrated the drug price deal: “For a generation, House Democrats have fought for meaningful price negotiations for drugs that will keep costs down. With today’s agreement on strong lowering drug prices provisions for the Build Back Better Act, Democrats have a way forward to implement this transformative agenda for our seniors. “

She said the deal would lower drug prices for seniors, reduce their co-payments, and set a $ 2,000 limit for seniors’ spending in Medicare Part D. The bill would also end the increases. prices higher than inflation, which would affect all Americans, she said.

Pelosi worked with Sinema to negotiate the deal, a source close to the negotiations said, adding that the two spoke at 12:45 p.m. on Tuesday to close the deal.

While the deal is a major step forward, Democrats still have other political hurdles to overcome before the bill is finalized, including how to deal with immigration.

On Tuesday afternoon, five centrist House Democrats – Hawaii’s Ed Case, Maine’s Jared Golden, New Jersey’s Josh Gottheimer, Florida’s Stephanie Murphy, and Oregon’s Kurt Schrader – wrote a letter telling Pelosi that they wanted the Congressional Budget Office or the Joint Committee. on taxation to provide an official estimate of the costs of the “before any floor review” legislation of the Build Back Better proposal.

It could upend Pelosi’s plans to hold a vote on the bill this week.

“They won’t have one. So they will be faced with a dilemma if it gets to the ground,” said Representative John Yarmuth, D-Ky., Adding that a Congressional Budget Office score could take two weeks.

Yarmuth, chairman of the House budget committee, noted that because Democrats let previous deadlines pass, “I gave up saying I trusted this.”

Representative Hakeem Jeffries, DN.Y., said the House wanted a “rock-solid deal” with the Senate before proceeding to a vote in plenary.

Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va, who has been another major obstacle in the Senate and called on the House to vote on the physical infrastructure bill first and suspend the Build Back Better package, said Tuesday that he recognized that was not the case. will happen.

“We’re going to do something. But I still believe in the bottom of my heart, with the unknown that we have right now, that we should have waited,” he said. “We’re not going to wait. This ship has sailed. I understand that.”

Manchin said Democrats agreed on major issues such as child care, home care and universal pre-kindergarten.

“We agree on so many things that are really good. And we are working on the climate – very progressive – I think, in a good way. And we will do something,” he said.

At a press conference Tuesday at the United Nations Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Biden said he believed Manchin would eventually be on board.

“I believe Joe will be there,” he said.

Manchin objected to including guaranteed family and medical leave in the bill as he called for a lower price. Democratic leaders told lawmakers the measure was unlikely to be in the final package.

“I am in favor of paid holidays,” he said on Tuesday, “but not in this bill as it has been presented”. He added: “We have not been able to do it from a parliamentarian’s point of view.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, DN.Y., a longtime activist for paid time off who pushed to include it in the bill, responded to Manchin. “He’s not the parliamentarian,” she said, adding that she had told him about a compromise.

But when asked Tuesday morning about the policy points outstanding on the negotiating table and whether paid time off was one of them, Representative Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and another funder of paid time off, told NBC News : “No”.

A senior Democratic official also questioned that Senate rules were a problem. “The parliamentarian did not limit the Democrats’ ability to take paid leave through reconciliation,” the aide said.

Gottheimer said the bill would include a “full reinstatement” of the state and local tax deduction (or SALT) which is currently capped at $ 10,000. He did not disclose the exact details of the policy, but it would reverse a 2017 GOP policy in which “moocher states” raised taxes “at the expense of the people of my district.”

A source said it would be a five-year recovery of SALT, retroactive to 2021. House Ways and Means President Richard Neal, D-Mass., Declined to confirm or deny this detail, but told NBC News, “That’s part of the discussion.”

Meanwhile, Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Tweeted that a five-year repeal of the SALT deduction cap would be “beyond the unacceptable. “

“I am open to a compromise approach that protects the middle class in high tax states. I will not support more tax breaks for billionaires, ”he added.

Manchin made a statement on Monday raising questions about the bill’s impact on inflation and the national debt, which rocked some Democrats. But others, including the White House, have said he has voiced those concerns before and the legislation was designed to address them.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Noted the influence of centrists Manchin and Sinema on the legislation.

“This is a bill America does not want and need. The ideal solution would be not to pass it,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “But if it has to pass, it will be written by Manchin and Sinema.”

House progressives maintain they will vote for the Build Back Better package as well as the infrastructure bill – which they have held back for weeks – once there is a deal on social spending.

Asked about Manchin’s claim that the package is bigger than Democrats admit, Sen. Bob Menendez, DN.J., called on the West Virginia lawmaker to tell his colleagues what will lead him to a “yes”.

“I don’t know what informs his point of view or where he gets his numbers,” Menendez said. “But at some point, Senator Manchin has to decide what it is for. And has to let the rest of the Senate know what it is for.”

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