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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A key congressional committee failed to pass Democrats' signature drug pricing bill yesterday, but that doesn't mean the party's push to lower drug prices is anywhere near over.

Why it matters: Hundreds of billions of dollars are on the line — and Democrats need that money to pay for the rest of their giant legislative agenda.

Driving the news: The House Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday failed to pass legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate the price of some drugs after three moderates voted against the measure.

  • The House Ways & Means Committee later passed the same provision. But three Democrats is all it takes to kill the entire reconciliation bill on the House floor, meaning that it's dead on arrival in its current form.

Between the lines: The House version of the bill could never have passed the Senate anyways, and there was always going to have to be a compromise between the two chambers.

  • But yesterday expedited the watering-down process.
  • The House bill was projected to free up some $700 billion in federal spending, which could then be used to fund Democrats' other priorities. As that number shrinks, so too will the budget for other popular measures, like expanding Medicare benefits or extending Affordable Care Act subsidy increases.

What they're saying: "Delivering lower drug costs is a top priority of the American people and will remain a cornerstone of the Build Back Better Act as work continues between the House, Senate and White House on the final bill," a spokesperson for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted after the measure failed in committee.

  • "I understand that the pharmaceutical industry owns the Republican Party and that no Republican voted for this bill, but there is no excuse for every Democrat not supporting it," Sen. Bernie Sanders wrote in a scathing statement. “The good news is that the full Congress must and will do far better."

What we're watching: Proponents of drug price reform have been in an increasingly intense messaging battle with the pharmaceutical industry for months now over the merits of Medicare negotiations.

  • The drug industry argues that drastic cuts to drug prices would result in less innovation, but their messaging hasn't historically had much impact on the policy's popularity with the public.
  • But the argument has clearly made some members of Congress nervous.
  • "This should be a strong signal to the House leadership that there is broad support for lowering costs for patients without sacrificing access to new cures and treatments," PhRMA said in a statement yesterday.

Go deeper

"Midnight is approaching” to pass voting rights protections

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

"Defenders of democracy in America still have a slim window of opportunity to act. But time is ticking away, and midnight is approaching," according to more than 150 top scholars of U.S. democracy in a new push to temporarily suspend the Senate filibuster and pass voting rights protections on a simple majority vote.

Driving the news: Their unified front comes amid a short break in the legislative action on Capitol Hill, with the start of the Thanksgiving recess and after the House passage of President Biden's "Build Back Better" social spending package.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Nov 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

The murky future of Biden's climate agenda in the Senate

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

House Democrats passed their $1.75 trillion social spending and climate package last week, but what happens next is hazy.

Why it matters: The bill, if it makes the finish line, would be by far the most sweeping U.S. climate package ever enacted.

Vermont Rep. Peter Welch to seek Leahy's Senate seat

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) speaking during a hearing in May 2020. Photo: Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) announced Monday he will run for the U.S. Senate seat that will be left open after Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) retires in 2022.

Why it matters: Welch's candidacy for Senate was expected, but it now leaves an open race for his at-large seat in the House.