Speaker Nancy Pelosi

U.S. House of Representatives

Pelosi Remarks at Press Conference on Introduction of H.R. 3, The Lower Drug Costs Now Act

September 19, 2019
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined top House Democrats for a press conference ahead of the introduction of H.R. 3, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, legislation to negotiate lower drug prices for all Americans, a top priority of Democrats’ For The People agenda.  Below are the Speaker’s remarks:

Speaker Pelosi.  Good morning. 

Leader Hoyer.  Good morning, everybody.

Speaker Pelosi.  Good morning, everyone.  Lower drug costs now!

Good morning.  Thank you all for being here. 

As we know, for years, seniors and families across America have struggled under the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs.  Drugs they need to stay healthy, but also the cost of drugs threatening their financial health and well‑being as well. 

I've always said in our meetings that when you travel the country, the issue of the cost of prescription drugs is one subject that can make grown men cry, just cry about not being able to deal with those costs, what it means, again, to the health and well‑being of their families because of cost. 

The burden of out‑of‑control prescription costs is an issue that touches every family in America.  That was self‑evident in the election of 2018.  It's still a big issue as we go forward.  We don't want a political issue at the polls.  We want a solution in the Congress, and we want it now. 

Our House committees of jurisdiction, under our outstanding Chairmen: Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Mr. Neal – Richie Neal – Chair of the Ways and Means Committee, and Chairman Bobby Scott.  I want to thank them for their leadership and the hard work of their staffs to bring us where we are today. 

In the interest of time, because our – these Committee Chairs have hearings they have to go to, I'll save some of my remarks for later.  Right now, I'm going to yield to the distinguished Democratic Leader of the House, Mr. Hoyer. 

***

Speaker Pelosi.  Thank you very much, and thank you for delivering that message of For The People agenda, lower health care costs by lowering the cost of prescription drugs.  

People say, ‘How come health care and that issue were so much a part of the 2018 discussion?’  Well, this is because it's what matters to the American people. 

And we had 10,000 events.  There were – I shouldn't say we had – there were 10,000 events across the country of people telling their stories about what the cost of prescription drugs was doing to their health and their financial health, but also protecting the benefit, the pre-existing condition benefit, which is legislation we have already sent over to Mitch McConnell. 

So, here we are, with this legislation.  And, just to review, it ends the ban – imagine that there's a ban for the Secretary to negotiate for lower drug prices for Medicare.  But, as has been indicated by our distinguished Chairmen and Members of the Leadership, that will apply to all.  Makes lower drug prices negotiated by Medicare available to all Americans. 

It stops drug companies from ripping off Americans while charging other countries less for the drug.  Let me go into that for a moment, because it has been alluded to by our speakers.  The countries that we would take an average – some say we should do the [median] rather than the average, that's up to the committees to decide – but it's Australia, Japan, Canada, the U.K., France and Germany – the [median] or the average of the cost there.  Sometimes it has been indicated six to one, sometimes it might be three to one.  Depending on that, we have a formulation that it's 1.2 times what that [median] or average is in those countries.  So, this is a big drop in cost for the U.S. 

A $2,000 cap, for some there is no cap.  In the Grassley bill, it is $3,100 cap.  Our bill is better in that respect and in many other respects, but we look forward to working in a bipartisan, bicameral way on this. 

And, it reinvests – there will be enormous savings.  We're waiting for the CBO report to come.  There will be enormous savings springing from this.  And, the committees of jurisdiction will be working on how those allocations will be, how that money will be used, whether it's improved benefits for Medicare, hearing, visual, dental, et cetera, whether it's about giving more resources to the Secretary's office so that more drugs can be negotiated. 

In other words, we're saying 25 is the floor.  We'd like it to be the highest number possible of the highest cost drugs that make the biggest difference, those drugs without competition.  So, it is transformative. 

So, it's a good day, and we think that the choices that were made by the Members of the committees – and I commend the Chairmen and their staffs for the work that they have done, my staff as well, to try to get the most effective way to get the job done.  And, we do think that there could be very strong bipartisan support for this legislation. 

I will take any questions on this subject. 

Yes, ma'am? 

***

Q: Yes, Madam Speaker, do you want and expect White House buy‑in on this plan, and how closely did you consult with them in developing it? 

Speaker Pelosi.  Well, yes, we do hope to have White House buy‑in because that seems to be the route to getting any votes in the United States Senate.  And certainly, we want as strong a bipartisan vote as we can in the House and the Senate. 

So, we would hope that they would support this.  They may have some other suggestions, and that's what the committee process is about. 

Chairman Neal.  And the President's State of the Union address – in the President's State of the Union address, he aggressively raised this question in front of the American people.  And time and again, when talking to members of the Administration, they seem intent on pursuing the same, I think, legitimate path that we're currently on.

Speaker Pelosi.  In my conversations with the President, there are two subjects on which we think we can have – of the three items on our agenda, the For The People agenda: lower the cost of prescription drugs by lowering – lowering cost of health care by lowering the cost of prescription drugs, bigger paychecks by building the infrastructure of America and cleaner government. 

On the first two, I think we can have their cooperation, not the third.  But, on building infrastructure, that's another area where we think we can find common ground. 

So, my conversations with the President have been about making this a priority.  I believe that he considers it so and that we can work together. 

On the subject?  Yes, sir.

Q:  Yeah.  On the three pillars you just laid out, on the cleaner government one, the President has suggested many times that what he describes as Presidential harassment will hold up progress –

Speaker Pelosi.  Excuse me, I'm sorry, that is not on this subject.  Okay.  We're talking about prescription drugs right now. 

Q:  But, he has said that it will hold up progress on things like prescription drugs and infrastructure. 

Speaker Pelosi.  Well, that's – instead, in fact, it is a source of hope to the American people that if we reduce the role of big, dark money in politics, we'll be able to get gun violence protection bills passed, climate action now, prescription – lowering the cost of prescription drugs. 

On this subject, sir? 

Q:  Yeah, the Energy and Commerce Committee –

Speaker Pelosi.  And weigh in anytime, Congressmen –

Q:  Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans have already criticized the plan, saying they – oh, if it's a bipartisan solution, this is not one of them.  This is one of your radical socialist ideas.  How do you respond to that? 

Chairman Pallone.  You want me to answer that?

[Laughter]

Chairman Neal.  I'll give you a quick answer. 

Chairman Pallone.  Well, I mean – you know, unfortunately, every time we do something that's a social program that would actually help the American people, somehow social becomes socialist.  I don’t – I’m not sure I understand that. 

I mean, look, the President and most Republicans say they want to lower the cost of prescription drugs.  They may disagree on how we do it, but I think as the Speaker said, as we go through the committee process, we have to convince them that this is a way to do it. 

And, you know, I'm not going to get into the ideology of labels and all that, but I do think that we can get Republican support, and, of course, as the Speaker said, the President is very much the key.  If he indicates support or at least suggests it's a good idea that should be pursued, then hopefully we can get some of the Energy and Commerce Republicans to go along.

Chairman Neal.  You know, one of the things that institutional memory does, I think it helps frame an argument.  So, recall when Medicare Part D was offered, a key Member on the other side in the run up said negotiating drug prices through Medicare was un‑American.  I mean, anybody who follows the forces of the marketplace, competition and negotiation gives us better products and lower costs. 

Speaker Pelosi.  Yes, sir? 

Q:  The Progressive Caucus doesn't like the floor of 25 drugs.  They want more than 25 drugs as a minimum.  Are you open to changing that? 

Speaker Pelosi.  Yes, indeed.  Well, let's just see what the – it's really about the absorptive capacity to be able to produce a result, and you want to be able to indicate a result that is possible and doable. 

As I said earlier, if there are more resources, if the Secretary says, ‘I can do more if I had more resources,’ then we should make that available.  But that's an open point, and we've had that discussion. 

First, they thought 25 was all we were going to do.  No, at least 250, and it could be many more, depending on what innovation brings to the marketplace, many new drugs may come, and so this may be an ongoing process. 

But, I will say that the American people need this, so we want to get a result and we're going to work together to get the best possible, strongest possible result for them.  The American people also believe that what we do at the National Institutes of Health, with the taxpayer dollar, to advance basic biomedical research is the foundation for how most private sector research goes forward.  It's what happens at the NIH and the grants that they give out extramural, the grants into universities and other entities throughout the country.  That is largely, that is taxpayer funded, publicly funded.  Everyone in America should have access to the benefits of that research. 

So, I want the biggest number we can possibly get, but I don't want to promise something that we won't have a deliverable within the next year on.  So, again, the committees will decide how to use the additional funding, and one of it may be to endorse – if it is, if that's the answer, to increase the absorptive capacity of the Secretary's office to do those. 

But, thank you for your question. 

On this subject?  Yes, ma'am.

Q:  Yes.  Another point that progressives have raised is they want to see something in the bill that addresses drugs that are coming on market at high prices. 

Speaker Pelosi.  Yes, of course.

Q:  Is there something in this bill that would ensure that drugs don't come to market at the high price? 

Chairman Pallone.  If there is no international price, which is often the case with a new drug, then we say that the – that in the negotiation, the Secretary shall ensure that he or she receives at least a fifteen percent discount off of the price of the drug when negotiating.  So, there is anticipation. 

Now, keep in mind that, you know, whether or not some new drug that comes to market is likely to be in that 25, you know, where we're spending the most, is probably not likely, but if it is, then we would at least have the requirement of fifteen percent reduction or discount. 

Q:  On the 15 percent, that's 15 percent lower than what, and doesn't that create the incentive to raise the overall price or the introductory price? 

Chairman Pallone.  Well, look, you can – and I've heard all kinds of people say how the drug company is going to find a way to get around this, you know.  Someone suggested, well, they'll just raise prices in the six countries we're using for the international price. 

But I mean, you know, we're doing our best to make this so that it is going to save money.  And I'm sure, you know, somebody's going to try to figure out a way around it, but, you know, then we'll just have to deal with that.  But right now – yeah, go ahead, Rich.

Chairman Neal.  And one of the things that I would like to do – I've addressed this with the Speaker – we unanimously passed the STAR Act out of the Ways and Means Committee.  We'd like to include the STAR Act, and as you know, the STAR Act was devoted to transparency. 

Speaker Pelosi.  And there's another bill in the Energy and Commerce Committee, Jan Schakowsky's bill, that is about transparency. 

So this is – that is going on to be a basis for discussion, but there will be many thoughts that enter into it that are very positive, and transparency is a central issue.  But, we wanted the versions that emerge there to be springing from, again, the Members of the committees who have been working on these bills for a long time. 

And, I would just also like to say that the point that you make is we cannot have the non-compliance fee be the cost of doing business.  It has to be an incentive not to go down that path, and therefore, in relationship to what's happening overseas, if it's five times what we pay, if it's two times what we pay, the non-compliance penalty, if they do not go down this path, is something that would be very painful to the drug companies for not coming through.  But understand –

Chairman Pallone.  And it's severe.  It's severe.  I don't know, did we actually mention the enforcement mechanism? 

Speaker Pelosi.  No, we didn't, but there is a strong enforcement mechanism in the legislation. 

Chairman Pallone.  Very strong.  For compliance, it's like 65 percent of the gross sales, if they didn't negotiate, and then depending how long they could refuse –

Chairman Neal.  It's an escalator clause. 

Speaker Pelosi.  It goes all the way up to the 90s. 

Chairman Pallone.  Ninety‑five.  So, I mean, that's pretty severe. 

Speaker Pelosi.  Yeah, goes up to the 90s.  But, again, this is an introduction.  So, much more will be added in the committee process, in the public review of it, but we are very excited about and happy that we can give some hope to people, that help is on the way, when it comes to addressing their – meeting the needs of their families, the families' health, the families' financial health, financial – families' well‑being. 

Yes, ma'am? 

Q:  You mentioned Jan Schakowsky and transparency.  What about the idea of reducing the period before biologics can have competition lower than twelve years?  Is that part of this conversation? 

Speaker Pelosi.  It isn't part of this conversation, but it's part of the conversation that we're having on the U.S.‑Mexico – the USMCA.

Chairman Neal.  It was part of TPP, Madam Speaker.

Speaker Pelosi.  You can –

Chairman Neal.  That conversation is taking place right now, and I think it's fair to say we're making headway on it. 

Speaker Pelosi.  Yes, sir? 

Q:  What is your timetable for mark ups and going to the Floor?  Would you engage with the White House trying to seek a deal before you go to the Floor?  And, if there's no deal after a certain time, would you go to the Floor anyway?

Chairman Neal.  Well, I just will say this.  In a conversation I've had with Senator Grassley about this, he seems intent on proceeding with parallel legislation.  And, he pointed out that in his legislation, that he had some Republican help, but a lot of Democratic help.  And, I think that that would be a good pace setter for all of us. 

But certainly, any ideas that they would have and the Secretary passing on those ideas, I think would be helpful to the conversation, but I think we would like to jump‑start the mark up in October. 

Chairman Pallone.  So as I said, in Energy and Commerce, we're going to have a hearing of the Subcommittee next Wednesday.  So, we want to do this as quickly as possible. 

Speaker Pelosi.  And I thank the Chairman, as well as Chairman Bobby Scott, for the work that they have done.  The experience and knowledge – this is always complicated – the knowledge that they bring to make the decisions that will make the biggest, the biggest difference.  And the – we don't call it a deal, but hopefully, we can come to some agreement about what is best for the American people. 

I'm optimistic.  I see everything as an opportunity.  As sad as it is that we're in this situation, in terms of the cost of prescription drugs, it is an opportunity for us to go forward.  And, the bright light that will be shown on this is important, and including the transparency provisions that will be in the bill one way or another. 

We have a couple of different approaches to it, but this is, again, a new day when it comes to lowering drug costs now. 

On the subject? 

Q:  Republicans, particularly in the Senate, have made it clear that government negotiations is a non-starter for them, but there is a lot of overlap in your bill with other aspects of the Grassley bipartisan drug pricing plan that cleared Senate Finance Committee.  Is there a path forward for you guys to sort of drop the negotiations aspects –

Speaker Pelosi.  No. 

Q:  – but work together –

Speaker Pelosi.  Absolutely, positively not.  When we first ran in '05 to win in '06, our agenda was ‘Six for '06: a new direction for America,’ ‘Six for '06.’  Five of the bills became the law of the land, one did not: enabling the Secretary to negotiate for lower prices.  If we only could have done it then, that is the central point.  As Mr. – repeat what you said earlier about Medicare Part D, what they said about negotiating.

Chairman Neal.  Well, that was it, I mean, and that's – you can go back and trace that.  It was a Subcommittee Chair, I think from Florida at the time, and he said that negotiating Medicare drug costs, the biggest purchaser, where they have their own audience to set the price with on their own, he said that in that instance, it would be un‑American to negotiate drug costs.  I mean, that runs against the orthodoxy.  I can't imagine those words coming out of Ronald Reagan's mouth. 

Speaker Pelosi.  But thank you all very much.  Thank you. 

Q:  Madam Speaker? 

Speaker Pelosi.  Oh, excuse me.  Let me excuse our distinguished guests then.  You're welcome to stay, but I know –

Chairman Neal.  No, no.

[Laughter]

Speaker Pelosi.  We have time for three questions briefly, because the room –

Q:  An intelligence question?

Speaker Pelosi.  Yes.

Q:  How closely are you following the situation with this intelligence whistleblower, and what's your reaction to the reporting that it has to do with a promise the President made to a foreign leader? 

Speaker Pelosi.  Well, I obviously trust the judgment of our Committee Chair, Adam Schiff, and he's following this very closely with an expert eye on what the law is, what protections there are for whistleblowers, and where does it cross a line of a conversation that the President may have, and that he may make for our nation that the public should be aware of. 

Q:  Madam Speaker? 

Speaker Pelosi.  And they're having meetings right now as we speak.

Yes, ma'am. 

Q:  This week, Corey Lewandowski came before the House Judiciary Committee.  Do you think that that hearing was a distraction from the House Democratic agenda like lowering drug pricing? 

Speaker Pelosi.  I think that what we are doing – we are legislating, investigating and litigating.  And, I trust the work of the committees as they go forward to do that. 

Yes, sir?

Q:  Was that hearing an investigation, though?  I mean, it was full of fireworks, it was very partisan –

Speaker Pelosi.  I understand that.  I answered.  I trust the committee and the path that they are on.

Yes, sir? 

Q:  Madam Speaker, on guns, I know you spoke with the President over the weekend.  I know I asked you on Tuesday night if you had heard any more, I guess probably you haven't heard any more since then –

Speaker Pelosi.  No –

Q: – and do you believe that the problem here is that the President doesn't know what he supports? 

You know, Mitch McConnell keeps saying I'll move something if we can get, you know, clearance from the White House.  That obviously hasn't happened.  Having spoken with the President, what is your read on what –

Speaker Pelosi.  We're talking guns now – gun safety now.  Let me just say that Leader McConnell says that about every subject, whether we're talking about the CR, which we were very happy to file last night so that we can take it up today, and we understand that the Senate will be accepting the CR that we send over there – whether it's about negotiating the – what comes next in terms of appropriations to continue to keep government open. 

Whatever the subject, the Leader will just say, ‘I'm just waiting to hear what the President wants.’  Now, that is to abdicate your role as a leader in Article I, first branch of government. 

Yes, we all want to work together to have the most sustainability for what we do, and the President's signature is an important part of that.  But to say we won't even make a suggestion, that we will not represent – we are Representatives, and so are the Senators – the point of view of 90 percent of the American people support H.R. 8 background checks, responsible background checks legislation. 

So, the President says he wants to do it.  Let's hope that he does.  We've heard through his staff that they're still working on it, he's going to call us when he's ready, but we haven't heard directly from the President. 

Q:  Having spoken with him, though, what do you think he's wrestling with – obviously –

Speaker Pelosi.  You want me to tell you what goes on in the President's mind? 

[Laughter]

Q:  Well, but you spoke to him.  I mean, without giving up state secrets here, what's – you know, characterize the conversation, if you would, please.  

Speaker Pelosi.  I did that already.  Chuck and I have characterized it. 

We had a conversation, which it being a Sunday morning, I told the President, as always, I pray for him.  I pray for him and I pray for his safety and the safety of his family.  And I pray that he will open his heart to the safety of America's families as well by giving his approval, his imprimatur, on H.R. 8, background check legislation, which is supported by 90 percent of the American people: Democrats and Republicans, Independents, gun owners, NRA members, veterans, collectors, hunters and the rest. 

So, I don't know what's holding the President up on it.  I know he's busy, and we hope to hear from him soon. 

But, what I will say to my – the people I work with and the grassroots movement, it's not just about guns.  It's about the Grim Reaper saying he's going to stop all legislation that goes over there. 

So, I say to them, if you care about gun safety and saving the lives of our children, call Mitch McConnell.  If you care about raising the minimum wage, call Mitch McConnell.  If you care for equal pay for equal [work], call Mitch McConnell.  If you care about net neutrality, as young people do, call Mitch McConnell.  If you care about climate action now, call Mitch McConnell.  If you care about – did I say violence against women – call Mitch McConnell. 

The list goes on and on.  If you care about our Dreamers, call Mitch McConnell.  Because he's holding up so much legislation that were our top ten priorities, which had bipartisan support in the public.  They weren't looking for a fight.  We're looking for a result, A, and we sent over many other pieces of legislation that pertained to lowering the cost of health care in our country.  Call Mitch McConnell.  The list goes on and on. 

So this – not even obstruction, it's just abandonment of your responsibility as a Leader in the Senate of the United States. 

One more.  Yes, ma'am? 

Q:  One more on H.R. 8 – the Attorney General floated a proposal in the Senate yesterday that did not include H.R. 8.  It included the Manchin‑Toomey bill, or it looked like the Manchin‑Toomey bill, and that would not cover private sales.  And, I'm wondering if that is the route that the President and the Senate go, would that be amenable to you in the House? 

Speaker Pelosi.  We're for H.R. 8.  It was very carefully constructed legislation that will save lives.  One of the recent mass murders was by somebody who had a straw purchase.  That means, I can't pass the test, you can, you buy the gun, I buy it from you.  That is a dangerous dynamic to have. 

So, we're for H.R. 8.  The Administration did not embrace what was said in the Senate.  They disassociated themselves from it. 

Q:  But, they are unlikely to go beyond it.  H.R. 8 is –

Speaker Pelosi.  Well, you know what, public sentiment.  Public sentiment may weigh in, but we must make progress on this.  And, I told the President, in friendship, for the children, we're not going away.  We're not going away until we have background checks to save lives of the American people. 

Thank you all very much. 

Q:  Thank you. 

Speaker Pelosi.  Lower drug costs now!