Congress Prepares to Hand Big Pharma More Money. Can Dems Stop It?

The Republican Party has declared that passing the 21st Century Cures bill is a chief priority for Congress before 2017. On the surface, a bill that purportedly allocates billions to drug and medical research seems like a non-partisan issue. However, staunch opposition from Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders should have liberals seriously reconsidering their support.

Sign the Care2 petition to urge Dick Durbin to stand against the 21st Century Cures bill.

Very little is straightforward in this 21st Century Cures legislation, which comes in at nearly 1,000 pages. Within those pages are many financial kickbacks to the nation’s richest pharmaceutical companies.

“At a time when Americans pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, this bill provides absolutely no relief for soaring drug prices,” said Sanders. “The greed of the pharmaceutical industry has no limit, and this bill includes numerous corporate giveaways that will make drug companies even richer.”

In the last five years, members of Congress have taken in over $27 million in campaign donations from pharmaceutical companies. This bill appears to be a way for Republicans to thank these corporations for their support and make their investments worthwhile.

Although, yes, there is some money going toward scientific research of drug addiction, the amount is too small to be worth the trade-off, according to Warren. “I cannot vote for this bill,” said Warren. “I will fight it because I know the difference between compromise and extortion.”

She points out that the 21st Century Cures bill frees pharmaceutical companies from the requirement of having to declare the money they pay to doctors. Some doctors have been known to accept financial rewards for prescribing a company’s drugs to patients.

Additionally, the bill significantly decreases the amount of scientific research necessary to prescribe drugs for new health uses. As such, doctors could start prescribing popular drugs to tackle symptoms when there isn’t much proof of their efficacy in alleviating those symptoms.

Ah, that sounds more like the anti-scientific stance Republicans have built their recent reputation upon. The research portion looks more and more like a smokescreen to give big pharma more money and power with less regulation.

On the Senate floor, Warren begged her Democratic colleagues to take a stand on this bill. “Republicans will control this government, but they cannot hand that control over to big corporations unless Democrats roll over and allow them to do so,” she said.

After Warren delivered her plea, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn condemned her for making a “political speech” that was “beneath the dignity of the United States Senate.” Hey, we all know how inappropriate it is for lawmakers to discuss politics and share their opinions on bills coming up for a vote!

It’s worth mentioning that the GOP’s plan to fund drug research conveniently takes money away from other vital areas. To cover the costs, the bill would:

  • Drop certain types of payments now covered by Medicare and Medicaid
  • Eliminate public health funding created by Obama’s health care plan
  • Approve the sale of oil currently held in government reserves

Democratic Party leadership hasn’t taken a firm stance on this bill yet, perhaps because some think the money earmarked for drug and cancer research does make it a worthwhile tradeoff. Still, there’s got to be a way to give money to important scientific research without having to simultaneously gift a bunch of unnecessary perks to pharmaceutical companies.

This election, Democrats lost the messaging war to show Americans that they are a party of the people rather than corporations. Here’s a prime opportunity for the Democrats to work on that image by standing against corporate kickbacks.

If you agree, sign this Care2 petition urging Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin to rally his party to reject 21st Century Cures.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

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