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Senate lawmakers cut some prescription drug price controls in weekend debate

Senate lawmakers ruled Saturday that Democrats must remove a provision targeting prescription drug rebates from the $740 billion health care, climate, tax and spending package ahead of an expected showdown over the chamber taking up the bill over the weekend.

Elizabeth McDonough, who is working overtime to conduct a nonpartisan scrub of the far-reaching legislation to ensure it meets the Senate’s complex budget reconciliation rules, said Democrats should eliminate provisions that force drugmakers to pay rebates for products they sell to private insurers. If their prices exceed inflation.

Drug manufacturers still have to pay penalties for drugs purchased by Medicare.

Other provisions targeting drug prices, including measures to enable Medicare to negotiate drug costs and capping seniors’ out-of-pocket costs, have survived the scrub.

“This is an important victory for the American people,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, said in a statement. “Despite the unfortunate verdict that the inflation rebate is more limited in scope, the overall program remains intact and we are one step closer to finally taking on Big Pharma and lowering Rx drug prices for millions of Americans.”

The restriction on Democrats’ proposal to penalize drug companies that raise costs on private insurers above inflation would reduce the $288 billion in long-term savings that Democrats had touted as part of the bill.

The Senate is expected to begin considering the bill later Saturday as Democrats rush to pass a central item on the Biden administration’s agenda before the Senate leaves for its August recess.

Republicans plan to put up a tough fight against the bill with a so-called “vote-a-rama” — an hours-long process that forces the full chamber to consider changes to the budget legislation. Part of the strategy is to put Democrats on the defensive on a range of hot-button issues.

At the end of the votes on the amendments, which could begin this weekend, a majority party will adopt a final amendment that negates any previous amendment passed.

Senate Republicans have vowed to make the process as tough as possible in an unlikely, last-ditch effort to put enough pressure on their Democratic colleagues to abandon the bill.

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