Sen. Bernie Sanders said he is “working” to include progressive policies, like allowing the government to negotiate prescription drug prices, into President Biden’s $1.75 trillion social spending plan and believes he can get all 50 Democratic senators on board despite two notable holdouts.
“We are paying the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. The pharmaceutical industry has spent hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars to make certain that Americans pay ten times more for some drugs and the Canadians and the Mexicans, so that fight continues,” Sanders (I-Vt.) told Dana Bash on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“We’re working today. We’re going to work tomorrow to strengthen that bill. It is outrageous that we continue to pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs,” Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, added.
“This is not easy stuff. But what we are trying to do is put together the most consequential piece of legislation in the modern history of this country, which will transform the role of government in protecting the needs of working families,” the senator also said.
Biden dropped a number of progressive provisions from his massive social spending plan amid opposition from moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, including allowing Medicare to negotiate the costs of prescription drugs for seniors.
Sanders reiterated demands made by progressives that the $1.25 trillion infrastructure deal that already passed the Senate and the spending bill that includes funds for pre-K, climate change and child care pass as a package.
“That bill is still being worked on literally today. It will be worked on tomorrow,” Sanders said. ”I believe we’re making some progress in making it even stronger than it is.”
Drug prices and expanding Medicare have been a long-time campaign talking point for Sanders.
“This is not about Sen. Sinema or Sen. Manchin,” Sanders said.
“But here is the bottom line. Last year, the pharmaceutical industry made $50 billion in profit. Last year, the top CEOs made hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in outrageous levels of compensation, all right?” Sanders, who ran for president in 2020, said.
“So the issue is, right now, the pharmaceutical industry is doing everything that it can to make sure that one out of four Americans is unable to afford the prescriptions that their doctors write. People are dying. The cost of insulin is totally 10 times more in this country than it is in Canada,” he added.
Sinema and Manchin are key if Democrats want to get the 50 votes needed to pass the legislation through reconciliation, which would allow them to bypass the 60-vote threshold required in the filibuster.
But progressives in the House, led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), say they will not vote on the bipartisan infrastructure deal until the Senate approves the social spending bill or Sinema and Manchin give their word they will advance it to the House.
“I think that has got to be a framework agreed upon in the Senate that all of us know is going to be implemented before the members of the House vote,” Sanders said. “It will be a framework. You’re going to have a piece of paper which will say, this is going to be the bill.”
“You don’t have to have all the legislative language, but you have to have a statement which is, a, b, c, d and e is going to be in the package and 50 members of the senate are going to support it,” he said.
The House could vote on the infrastructure plan as soon as Tuesday.