Oregon U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader speaks in support of reproductive rights after a Planned Parenthood event in downtown Portland on Friday, May 31, 2019.

Oregon U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader speaks in support of reproductive rights after a Planned Parenthood event in downtown Portland on Friday, May 31, 2019.

Meerah Powell / OPB

Oregon Congressional Representative Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon, is defending his vote to kill a piece of President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion social infrastructure plan that would allow the U.S. government to negotiate the price of prescription drugs.

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Schrader was one of the three Democrats — including Rep. Scott Peters of California and Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York — to vote against the plan in a meeting Wednesday of the House Energy and Commerce Committee where representatives concluded a three-day review of Biden’s 10-year spending package.

The committee deadlocked in a 29-29 vote, meaning the drug pricing plan could not move forward, although a separate House committee approved a proposal with similar language later on Wednesday.

In an interview with OPB Thursday, Schrader said it’s not the prescription drug pricing plan that he takes issue with.

In fact, Schrader said, he’s working with Peters on a separate bill known as the Reduced Costs and Continued Cures Act that would essentially see the same result.

He believes that bill — which would also allow the federal government to negotiate best prices for Medicare patients, particularly items covered under Medicare Part B, such as injectable drugs for treating cancer — has a higher likelihood of clearing a Senate vote.

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“We voted against H.R. 3,” he said. “We did not vote against negotiating drug prices.”

Schrader has voted in favor of H.R. 3 in the past. The proposal — known as the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act — has been in the works for almost three years, and nearly identical provisions of the bill have been folded into the sweeping social infrastructure package currently under review in the House.

“The most obvious question is, ‘Why would you vote against it now?” he said. “The most obvious answer is because it did not work before. The Senate never picked it up.”

According to Schrader, his main concerns about the $3.5 trillion infrastructure package are around the process and the price tag.

He said there have been virtually no hearings on the bills that are part of the plan, and Congress is being asked to accept proposals drafted in “back rooms” with little input from the public.

“I don’t accept that,” he said. “I represent Oregon’s fifth congressional district, and they demand a little better. I know they object to that. And the biggest flaw that I have is that we don’t have any money. We have already spent $5 trillion saving America, basically over the last year and a half, from COVID.”

Schrader said while he is proud of that work to save the nation’s economy, he can’t back a plan that continues spending at the rate Biden and Democratic leadership have proposed.

Media reports have linked Schrader’s committee vote killing the proposed drug price negotiation plan to his campaign contributions, of which he’s received large donations from the pharmaceutical industry, including Pfizer, where his grandfather was once a top executive.

Schrader said he rejects the notion that his actions are linked to contributions from big pharma.

“Pharmaceutical companies are getting a bad deal if they think they can buy my vote,” he said.

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The State of Oregon hopes to put downward pressure on drug prices with its new price transparency program.

Bill aims to make prescription drug prices more affordable in Oregon

A bipartisan group of Oregon lawmakers are sponsoring a bill that would create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board. The board would have the power to set a maximum price buyers in the state could pay for some drugs. The goal is to reduce prices for consumers. But critics, including the Oregon Society of Health-System Pharmacists, say the proposal will not have the intended results.