POLITICS

Pharma Deal To Be Tested On Senate Floor

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has promised to allow a vote on re-importing prescription drugs from Canada as an amendment to the health care reform bill, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) told reporters on Saturday.

Dorgan, one of two lead sponsors on the measure, said that he was pushing for a vote on the amendment over the weekend but expects it to come up on the floor on Monday following debate on an abortion amendment backed by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), which mirrors extremely restrictive language pushed by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) in the House.

The measure is also being championed by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine); both she and Dorgan noted that Republican Sens. David Vitter (La.), Charles Grassley (Iowa) and John McCain (Ariz.) are cosponsors of a bill doing the same thing.

Snowe pledged to back it on the floor and do what she could to bring other Republicans along, she told reporters Saturday.

The measure would save the federal government $19 billion over the next ten years, according to the Congressional Budget Office -- and would save consumers billions more.

Big Pharma strongly opposes the amendment and has said it will use "hand to hand combat" to defeat it. The drug makers have a deal with the White House that their contribution to health care will not exceed $80 billion over ten years; Dorgan's bill could take them over the limit and, in any event, was specifically ruled out in negotiations with the White House.

Dorgan was not part of those talks, however, and noted that Obama, as a senator, had supported his measure, as had Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel when he was in the House. The White House, he said, had not attempted to discourage him from going forward.

"They should be sleeping well, because they have been strong supporters of exactly what we're trying to do," he said. "I hope and expect to get 60."

Dorgan also took a shot at the parliamentary evolution the Senate has taken, which requires his amendment to obtain those 60 votes rather than a simple majority.

"Nothing is 51 in the Senate. Apparently there's been a new Constitution that says you have to have 60 somehow," he said.

Dorgan, a member of Senate leadership, said that his amendment was the first Pharma-deal-buster to get final approval to go to the floor. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) are also pushing amendments that would take a bite out of drug-maker profits.

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