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Sanders targets drug CEOs ahead of subpoena vote

Sanders at a Senate HELP Committee hearing. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Senate HELP Chair Bernie Sanders went before the mics Thursday to tout an upcoming subpoena vote for the CEOs of Merck and Johnson & Johnson to testify before his panel about high drug prices.

Driving the news: It's hardly a secret that Sanders is not a fan of the pharmaceutical industry, but here are a few things that caught our eye.

  • Asked if he has the votes to agree to the subpoenas, Sanders replied, "You're never totally confident of anything, but yes, I think [they will be agreed to]."
  • Asked if he is seeking to pressure the companies to lower their prices without having to pass legislation, Sanders said he has not given up on legislation but noted that "it won't shock anybody here, the pharmaceutical industry is an enormously powerful political force in America."
  • "One of the tools that we have is public pressure," he added, citing the pledge make by Eli Lilly's CEO at a HELP hearing last year not to raise the price of insulin.

What to watch for: In a taste of what's to come, Sanders stood in front of posters showing higher drug prices in the U.S. than in other countries, where there often are government cost controls.

The other side: HELP Ranking Member Bill Cassidy previously said the subpoena effort is simply a way to publicly punish CEOs and said he would instead prefer a "bipartisan effort that could result in meaningful legislation."

  • Cassidy said that the companies offered to send lower-level officials who more directly oversee prices. Sanders today noted that the CEOs are the ones ultimately responsible, so he wants to hear from them.
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