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Democrats see broad agreement with Manchin on drug pricing

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Democratic leaders have finalized a revised proposal to lower prescription drug prices for seniors, Sen. It’s part of a broader scramble to satisfy Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) and resurrect a long-stalled economic package he hopes to move forward as soon as this summer. .

The development prompted Senate Majority Leader Charles E. It follows extremely private talks between Schumer (DN.Y.) and Manchin, whose spending concerns overturned an earlier bill known as the Build Back Better Act. That puts Democrats in a position to jumpstart a key part of the legislative process around their agenda, as they clash with West Virginia lawmakers over other plans to lower health-care costs and combat climate change.

Democrats are racing to revive the economic package as inflation rises

The retooled prescription drug pricing proposal is similar to a blueprint put forward by Democrats last year, according to three people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the discussions. Democrats say it would generally authorize the US government to negotiate the price of select drugs on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries, lowering costs for years to come.

Under the proposal, drug negotiations would begin in 2023, according to details obtained by The Washington Post. Democrats have preserved plans to cap seniors’ drug costs under Medicare at $2,000 per year, but penalize companies that raise prescription prices faster than inflation.

For the first time, however, Democrats are aiming to close what they see as a new loophole that may have allowed future administrations to negotiate aggressively, according to the documents. One of the people familiar with the matter said the move is intended to ensure the government still tries to lower drug prices even if control in Washington changes, as Republicans have long opposed these negotiating powers. Democrats plan to extend additional support to a wider range of low-income seniors, hoping to help them afford their premiums and co-pays.

Manchin publicly supported his party’s last-ditch effort to lower drug prices for seniors. Since then, he has repeatedly said he stands by the idea, especially as costs continue to rise across the economy. Despite his comments, other Democrats remain uneasy about his priorities — a reflection of the turbulent, shifting and wide-ranging negotiations between the moderate West Virginian and members of his own party.

Democrats hope to adopt the drug pricing plan as part of an even larger economic package that they advance through the narrowly divided Senate using a process known as conciliation. The move would allow the party to sidestep the GOP filibuster — but only if every Democrat, including Manchin, banded together with the help of Vice President Harris’ tie-breaking vote.

Privately, Schumer told members of his caucus that a quick resolution would allow him to bring a new bill to the floor in late July, a source said. To meet that goal, Democrats plan to present their new drug pricing proposal to Senate lawmakers this week, sources said. That seemingly bureaucratic step has far-reaching implications: The chamber’s chief rule-keeper has great sway in determining whether lawmakers’ plans meet strict rules of reconciliation, which restrict legislation to proposals that directly affect the budget.

The process is long and complicated. And if the drug pricing proposal doesn’t fall within the guardrails, it could lead to Democrats excluding it entirely from the final measure. Similar fears loomed large over the party’s efforts to address drug costs last year, particularly its proposals to cap the price of insulin, whose future remains unclear as bipartisan negotiations continue.

In a statement, Manchin’s spokesman, Sam Runyon, said the senator “has long advocated for proposals to lower drug costs for seniors, and his support for this proposal has never been in question. He is pleased that all 50 Democrats agree.”

A spokesman for Schumer declined to comment, citing the Democratic leader’s comments last week that the two had “good and productive discussions,” though “there are still some issues that need to be addressed.”

The renewed effort among Democrats to resurrect their agenda reflects the political and economic urgency of the moment. For more than a year, party lawmakers have been scrambling to fulfill promises made during the last election, including promises to lower drug costs. But they were largely unable to do so, thwarted by one of their own members — opposition that many Democrats fear could cost them control of Congress in November.

How the White House lost Joe Manchin — and its plan to transform America

Manchin has remained resistant to spending as much as Democrats initially wanted in his proposal, known as the Build Back Better Act, which was once valued at roughly $2 trillion. They argue that such spending could increase debt and worsen inflation when costs are already skyrocketing. The senator’s position has put him at odds with others in his party, who say he would pay his initial bill entirely with new federal revenue and help families address the biggest sources of their financial stress.

Still, Democrats can’t move forward without Manchin’s vote, which has already forced him to sacrifice some of his prized proposals — including providing free prekindergarten, lowering child care costs, providing affordable senior care, authorizing national paid family and Medicare, and investing more in housing. He is now exploring a smaller package that would focus on lowering drug costs, investing in green energy and making some changes to the tax code to help reduce the deficit.

Several areas remain unresolved in talks between Manchin and Schumer, including a plan to extend enhanced subsidies to millions of Americans who buy health insurance through national exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act, the sources said. Without a resolution, more than 13 million people could see premium increases next year.

Along with drug prices, Democrats have settled anew on ensuring access to all free vaccines for seniors on Medicare, who currently lack such benefits, according to plan details seen by the Post. It would expand assistance with premiums and co-pays for a greater share of low-income senior Americans. And the initiative aims to encourage investment in generic drugs, which would provide further savings to seniors, sources said.

In the meantime, Democrats have tried to work with Republicans on a separate, stand-alone measure to provide financial relief to people with diabetes. The House passed a bill this spring to cap insulin costs, and Sens. Gene Shaheen (DN.H.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) released their own proposal this month that would make additional revisions to the system. Schumer has pledged to bring it to the floor for a vote, though it’s unclear whether he can win the support of at least 10 Senate Republicans to avoid a filibuster.

Rachel Rubin contributed to this report.

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