WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — After President Donald Trump seemed to endorse his plan to lower prescription drug prices during the State of the Union address last week, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is optimistic he can swing enough votes to pass the measure.
Some of his fellow Republicans are holding out and drug companies are complaining the bill will hurt them. Still, Grassley said his legislation is the best hope to pass long-awaited reforms.
“This is the only bipartisan bill that can pass Congress,” Grassley said. “I hope there’s reason to move it along.”
He said the measure would lower out-of-pocket costs for seniors on Medicare and limit drug price increases to inflation rates.
“Saving the taxpayers money — seems to me every conservative ought to be for that,” Grassley said.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said some members of the party aren’t sold, fearing the price controls in the bill could slow innovation of lifesaving drugs.
“We’re going to be talking about it,” McConnell said. “Whether we can all pull together and get a solution, I’m not prepared to predict.”
Grassley said that since the president and vice president came out in support of his plan, he has been able to get more GOP Senate co-sponsors. He is still working to rally more.
“Big pharma is against it and I hope they aren’t listening to them,” he said.
He said he doesn’t want to put McConnell and others in a compromising position during an election year, but feels passing his plan would actually help the 23 Senate Republicans up for re-election.
“Surely, since McConnell wants to keep control of the U.S. Senate, you’d think they say, ‘Rah, rah, rah, let’s move,'” he said. “This is answering the calls of your constituents.”
On Monday, White House budget director Russell Vought seemed to walk back the president’s backing.
“(There are) continuous high levels of support for the broad outlines of what Sen. Grassley’s trying to do, not necessarily a specific endorsement of the bill,” he said.
Many Democrats remain skeptical of Republican proposals.
“The president’s not willing nearly to be strong enough to take on the drug industry and neither is Congress, frankly,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said.
Brown said that to win over Democrats, the bill would have to allow the government to negotiate drug prices, which a measure before the Democrat-led House of Representatives would do. The White House does not support that.
Grassley said if he can get his bill through the Senate, he’s willing to work with Democratic House leaders to reach a compromise.