So much media coverage regarding the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the reconciliation package has focused on the legislative process for passing the bills. The contents of those packages, however, have received scant attention — especially the reconciliation bill.
The readout from the White House on a phone call between President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Saturday shows health care is top of mind for the party’s leaders. The readout lists “cut prescription drug costs” as the first in a list of elements of the “Build Back Better” program. The readout stated: “[Biden and Pelosi] followed up on the consensus from their conversations with 15 House committee chairs that we can pay for these vital, cost-cutting, long-term investments in the Build Back Better bill by empowering Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices and asking the largest corporations and wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share.”
That is no accident. Biden devoted an entire speech on Aug. 12 to lowering drug prices. After noting a previous executive order to speed up the approval process for cheaper prescription drugs, Biden launched into a pitch to include in the reconciliation package permission for Medicare to negotiate drug prices with Big Pharma. The plan would set reasonable drug prices, he explained, but would also cap “the amount that seniors have to spend on prescription drugs each year at no more than about $3,000 a year.” He argued that this in turn will lower drug prices for employer-provided plans. “[T]he American people support it by overwhelming bipartisan margins,” he noted.
Biden is right about that. Politico reports:
In a memo released Friday, [Celinda] Lake’s polling firm found that 87 percent of voters over the age of 65 favored allowing Medicare to negotiate with prescription drug corporations to lower prices. The survey conducted in mid-June among 800 voters over the age of 65, also found that seniors would cross party lines “presenting both an opportunity for Democratic candidates who favor this proposal to win over voters as well as a threat that could erode their base of support if they oppose it,” the memo states.
A child tax credit is great for parents. An infrastructure bill is great for blue-collar workers and commuters. But almost everyone — especially seniors, who turn out in disproportionate numbers in midterms — pays for some sort of prescription drug.
And if that were not enough, the Senate-passed reconciliation instructions include expanding Medicare to include dental, vision and hearing benefits. Seniors are certain to cheer that as well.
A YouGov poll from July showed that among all the Biden initiatives, expanding Medicare to cover dental care might carry the most political bang for the buck. More than three-quarters of all Americans support it, including 82 percent of voters in battleground states for Senate races in 2022. This would be the first significant expansion of Medicare benefits in decades and would put Republicans in the position of opposing a policy that seniors strongly support. Cue the “Push Granny over the cliff” ads.
As Pelosi threads her way between nine obstreperous moderate Democrats insisting on a vote on infrastructure first and more than 100 progressives who won’t vote for that without first approving the budget plan with the popular health-care measures, no one should lose track of the Democrats’ end game. Ultimately, they will want to run on a restored economy (attributable to Biden’s agenda, naturally), a pandemic that’s under control and the duo of health-care goodies — cheaper prescription drugs and better coverage for dental, vision and hearing care for seniors. The economy and the pandemic are not entirely within Democrats’ control, but the health-care items are. And make no mistake: Biden and Pelosi have no intention of dropping the ball on those.