TOPICS > Health

Democrats Revolt Over $80 Billion Pharmaceutical Deal

BY Lea Winerman  September 23, 2009 at 1:53 PM EDT

Sen. Bill Nelson and Sen. Mike Crapo; Getty Images

The pharmaceutical industry had agreed to offer $80 billion toward health care reform over the next 10 years, and the Obama administration agreed to cap the industry’s exposure to that figure — an agreement incorporated into the Baucus plan that the Senate Finance Committee is considering.

However, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., offered an amendment that would nullify the plan and extract $86 billion more from drug makers. Other liberal Democrats on the committee, including Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Charles Schumer of New York, asked to co-sponsor the amendment.

“This is a metaphor for where this bill is headed,” Schumer said. He said the bill was a measure of “whose side you are on,” either the industry or average citizens.

The only Democrat to speak against the amendment was Sen. Thomas Carper of Delaware, whose district includes drug makers such as AstraZeneca.

Backing away from a deal, Carper said, would not be fair. “Whether you like pharma or not, we have a deal,” he said.

But other Democrats complained that they were not part of the deal to begin with.

“That’s a value judgment,” Schumer said. “This is going to be a constant debate when we come to this bill [...] how often do we side with one of the interest groups, and how often do we side with average citizens.”

The senators continued debating the bill until late into the night Tuesday, and resumed Wednesday morning.

On Wednesday, Democrats voted down a Republican amendment that would have required the full text of the legislation to be posted for 72 hours before any committee vote on the bill.

Democrats argued the demand was a delay tactic, because the amendment would have required the bill be posted in full “legislative language” — the technical language that ultimately becomes the law.

Senate Finance Committee bills are usually passed using “conceptual” language instead, which describes the goals and policies of the bill, so the bill would have been delayed while it was translated from conceptual to technical language.

The committee approved in a party-line vote instead an amendment that would require the conceptual-language bill to be posted online for 72 hours before a vote.