GOP Sponsors of House Generic Drug Bill Oppose Democrats’ Attempts To Force Vote
While House Democrats will formally file a discharge petition today to force a floor vote on generic drug legislation that has stalled in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the Republican sponsors of the measure are opposing the effort, CongressDaily/AM reports (Rovner, CongressDaily/AM, 9/19). Under House rules, any member can introduce a motion to relieve a standing committee of its responsibility for a bill if the legislation has been before the panel for thirty legislative days. To be successful, half of the House, or 218 representatives, must sign the petition. The bill (HR 5272), companion legislation to a bill (S 812) the Senate passed in July, would give brand-name drug makers only one 30-month patent extension per product, closing loopholes in the 1984 Hatch-Waxman Act that pharmaceutical companies have used to delay generic drug competition. The bill also would prevent brand-name drug companies from paying generic manufacturers to keep their products off the market and would allow generic drug companies to legally challenge "frivolous patents," including "superficial changes" in a treatment's color or physical design intended only to "stifle competition" (California Healthline, 9/18). According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill would save $60 billion over the next 10 years.
House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), joined by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) -- the Senate bill's sponsors -- yesterday announced that House Democrats planned to file the discharge petition. McCain said the House had not moved on the bill because the pharmaceutical industry had given "millions of dollars of campaign contributions" to House Republicans (Pear, New York Times, 9/19). Gephardt said the bill would "close a loophole used by drug makers to extend their patents, inflate their prices and gouge our nation's consumers" (Rovner, CongressDaily, 9/18). However, Reps. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), who sponsored the House bill, and John Thune (R-S.D.) wrote a letter to lawmakers urging them not to sign the petition. "While a discharge petition may make for good political game playing, it will surely block the progress of generic drug legislation in the House," the letter stated. Emerson said the Republican leadership could include the bill in a Medicare provider "giveback" package that is expected to be approved before the end of the year. She also noted that Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, has promised to hold hearings on the generics bill before the end of the session.
For his part, however, Tauzin said House Democrats should pressure Senate Democrats to "tak[e] up" the House-passed Medicare prescription drug bill (CongressDaily/AM, 9/19). Also, House Republican leaders said the discharge petition effort was simply "political positioning for the upcoming elections," CongressDaily reports (CongressDaily, 9/18). A spokesperson for House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) added that the prescription drug issue has become the "biggest liability" for Democrats because the Senate to date has failed to pass a Medicare prescription drug plan (Fagan, Washington Times, 9/19). However, Collins said, "It's a false choice to say it's prescription drug benefits versus generic drug legislation. We need to have both." She added that passage of the generic drug bill would make a "prescription drug bill under Medicare more affordable" (New York Times, 9/19).
Meanwhile, Democrats have lost support for the bill from the Coalition for a Competitive Pharmaceutical Market, which includes generic drug makers, insurance groups and employers, CongressDaily/AM reports. The coalition said it did not want to "anger GOP leaders" near the end of the session, when it is lobbying for other bills, according to CongressDaily/AM. "We do not endorse pursuing a discharge petition, but we continue to urge the House to take immediate action to pass this critical legislation," the group said in a statement (CongressDaily/AM, 9/19). However, the New York Times reports that labor unions, consumer groups and other employers support the bill because it would cut prescription drug costs (New York Times, 9/19).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.