Senator Bernie Sanders didn’t parse words for his colleagues in the Senate who voted early Thursday morning to keep drug prices high.
Sen. Sanders (I-Vermont) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) were cosponsors of an amendment that would seek to lower prescription drug prices substantially by importing them from Canada, rather than continue paying exorbitant prices at home. The below chart, using 2013 data from the International Federation of Health Plans‘ comparative price report, shows that prices of commonly used prescription drugs are far cheaper in Canada than in the U.S.
The amendment narrowly failed a vote in the Senate, with 52 voting “nay” and 46 voting “yea,” while two others abstained. 13 Democrats voted with the Republican majority to block the amendment’s passage, though 12 Republican senators broke with their party’s leadership to support the amendment, including former Republican presidential contender Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
Sanders blasted the 13 Democrats — which included 2020 presidential hopeful Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) — as incapable of standing up to well-heeled industrial lobbyists.
“The Democratic Party has got to make it very clear that they are prepared to stand up to powerful special interests like the pharmaceutical industry and like Wall Street, and they’re not going to win elections and they’re not going to be doing the right thing for the American people unless they have the guts to do that,” Sen. Sanders said. “That 13 Democrats did not is disappointing. I absolutely hope that in the coming weeks and months you’re going to see many of them develop the courage to stand up to Pharma.”
Sen. Booker responded to a constituent’s tweet by claiming his “nay” vote was to protect American consumers from potentially harmful ingredients in the drugs, as the amendment didn’t include additional protections for the imported drugs.
.@LaurenLovesWI I unequivocally support drug imports to lower cost but plan must include protections so foreign drugs meet safety standards.
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) January 12, 2017
However, as campaign finance data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows, Booker is one of the pharmaceutical industry’s favorite Democratic senators. Booker’s campaign committees have received nearly $400,000 in campaign contributions from drugmakers in the three short years he’s been a senator.
Sanders scoffed at the excuse, alluding to the fact that the United States already imports food and vegetables from its northern neighbor and other countries with no problems.
“If we can import vegetables and fish and poultry and beef from all corners of the Earth, please don’t tell me that we cannot bring in, from Canada and other major countries, name brand prescription drugs of some of the largest corporations in the world,” Sanders said. “That’s a laughable statement.”
Zach Cartwright is an activist and author from Richmond, Virginia. He enjoys writing about politics, government, and the media. Follow his work on the Public Banking Institute blog.