Harmony is not common between two of Capitol Hill’s most violent senators, Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) And Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
But he was there in the Senate on Tuesday Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions marking legislation to re-authorize the Consumer Fees Program of the Food and Drug Administration, which expires in September. 30
This user fees program, first approved in 1992, allows the FDA to collect fees from companies that apply for drug approval. It is designed to speed up the approval review process. And it requires re-authorization every five years.
Congress believes this bill should be passed because it helped fund the FDA as well as update existing policies. As a result, it also functions as a tool for other proposals that reach the president’s office – especially those that cannot be reached on their own.
That’s why Sanders took the opportunity on Tuesday to make an offer change to the user fee bill, which would allow imports of medicines from Canada and the United Kingdom, and in two years from other countries.
“We’ve been talking about re-importing for a million years,” said the visibly heated Sanders. “It simply came to our notice then. No bureaucracy is expected to do that. That’s what makes it happen. ” He then lasted a few minutes, his tone escalating, citing statistics on high drug prices, telling anecdotes about people traveling for drugs, and ending with outrage over the contribution of pharmaceutical companies to the campaign and the number of lobbyists the industry has.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Bernie’s rally and now I feel like I’ve been there,” Paul joked after Sanders finished talking. He continued to offer his support for the Vermont Senator’s amendment, a rare bipartisan alliance between senators at opposite ends of the political spectrum.
“This is a policy that unites many on both sides of the road, the outrage over high drug prices,” Paul added. He said he did not support drug price controls in the United States, but supported a global competitive free market for drugs, which he said would reduce prices.
Even before Sanders proposed his amendment, the bill on user fees to the committee included a limited provision on drug imports, chap. 906. This would require the FDA to develop regulations for imports of certain prescription drugs from Canada. But how this provision differs from the Trump-era regulation is unclear, he said Rachel Sachs, Professor of Law at the University of Washington at St. Lewis and drug pricing expert.
“The FDA has already made import regulations, which were finalized at the end of the Trump administration,” Sachs said. “We have not seen anyone trying to get approval” under this directive. She added that whether sec. 906 is doing everything to improve the existing regulation, it is not clear.
Sanders’ proposed amendment would go further, Sachs explained.
It would include insulin among the products that could be obtained from other countries. This would also force pharmaceutical companies to comply with the regulation. In the pricing circles of medicines, there were concerns that even if imports were allowed, there would be resistance to them in other countries because of how the practice could affect their domestic supplies.
A serious discussion ensued between Republican and Democratic senators. Among the most remarkable moments: sen. Mitt Romney (Utah) asked if the import of drugs from countries with price control will become a form of price control in the US senator. Tim Kane (D.V.) said his father broke the law by receiving his glaucoma medication from Canada.
The chairman of the commission sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) Held the line against Sanders’ amendment. Although she agrees with some of her policies, she said she wants to stick to the import framework already in the bill, instead of making changes that could jeopardize its adoption. “Many of us want to do more,” she said, but the bill in its current form is a huge step forward and has the support of Republicans that we need to pass the bill.
“As far as I know, this is actually the first time that the bill to re-authorize consumer fees includes a policy that expands the import of prescription drugs,” Murray said. “I believe this will prepare us well to make further progress in the future.”
sen. Richard Burr (RN.C.), a senior member of the committee, was adamant in opposing Sanders’ amendment, saying it portends doom to the overall prospects of the legislation. “Do you want to kill this account?” “Make imports,” Burr said.
However, Sanders, remaining true to his reputation, did not calm down and did not give up the battle. Instead, he insisted on an immediate vote. “This is a real debate. There were differences of opinion. This is called democracy, “he said. “I would call on those who support what you dream of. Paul and I are trying to do it here to vote for him.
In the end, however, the members of the commission did not do so, choosing to table the amendment, which means that it was repealed and not included in the legislation.
Later in the afternoon, the Senate committee met again after senators attended their weekly party policy lunches and accepted the bill on consumer fees from committee 13-9. The next step is consideration by the full Senate. Such a bill has already cleared the House.