Mitch McConnell Takes Bipartisan Bill Hostage To Block Democrats’ Prescription Drug Bill

WASHINGTON ― Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell won’t support a bipartisan domestic manufacturing bill if Democrats try to lower prescription drug prices and tax the rich, the Kentucky Republican announced Thursday.

Bipartisan negotiators from the House and Senate have been hammering out a compromise of a bill boosting the semiconductor chip industry after each chamber passed its own version. The Senate’s bill was called the United States Innovation and Competitiveness Act, or USICA.

“Let me be perfectly clear: there will be no bipartisan USICA as long as Democrats are pursuing a partisan reconciliation bill,” McConnell tweeted on Thursday.

McConnell’s threat comes just as Democrats have made progress on a new budget reconciliation bill to replace the stalled Big Back Better Act. The centerpiece of the legislation would be a provision giving Medicare more power to negotiate with pharmaceutical manufacturers for lower prescription drug prices.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) have nearly finalized a prescription drug agreement, according to a source familiar with the negotiations. NBC News first reported the details of the plan on Thursday.

But prescription drugs would be just part of the bill ― the other major components under consideration would address climate change and partially undo tax cuts for the wealthy that Republicans enacted in 2017. Democrats have dropped a number of social policies in Build Back Better that Manchin opposed.

The tax piece will be difficult for Democrats, since they need all 50 members of their caucus to agree, and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) has said she won’t support higher tax rates.

It’s not clear what the chips bill has to do with the reconciliation bill; McConnell appears to be making a raw power move — something he’s known to do from time to time. Just a week ago, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, eliminating the federal right to an abortion. The court wouldn’t have delivered the decision if McConnell had not engineered its 6-3 Republican majority by refusing to allow President Barack Obama to appoint a justice in an election year, then rushing to confirm a Donald Trump nominee shortly before the 2020 election.

McConnell isn’t part of the reconciliation talks, but his threat to hold up the chips bill seems designed to give moderate Senate Democrats second thoughts about reconciliation.

The Senate passed its version of the semiconductor bill by a vote of 68-32, with 18 Republicans in support, including McConnell. It’s not clear if the 17 other Republicans who voted yes would join McConnell in changing their positions.

The centerpiece of both the Senate and House bills is $50 billion for a semiconductor incentive program and advanced microelectronics research. The House bill, which had little Republican support, included an extension of special unemployment benefits for workers who lose their jobs due to foreign trade.

Lawmakers from the House and Senate have been meeting in a formal conference committee in order to come up with a compromise version of the legislation. McConnell and Schumer have been having “big four” meetings about the measure with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

The core idea of both bills had been to make American manufacturers more competitive with China.

Justin Goodman, a spokesperson for Schumer, blasted McConnell’s announcement in an email.

“Sen. McConnell is holding American jobs in key US industries hostage to help China and protect his friends in big pharma allowing them to keep screwing over Americans with outrageously high Rx drug prices,” Goodman wrote.

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