Four Democrats Who’ve Been Bought by Big Pharma

Yesterday I ran into an article that claimed Kyrsten Sinema had benefited recently from a big email and digital campaign on her behalf bankrolled by Big Pharma, and it was after that she announced that she doesn’t support allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices. I didn’t link to it right away because I was waiting for some corroboration. Well, today I am seeing the same claim in a lot of places, so I assume there’s some corroboration somewhere. This is from Salon:

Sinema got major backing from the industry before her threat to derail the Democrats’ drug bill. Center Forward, a Washington nonprofit that has received at least $4.5 million from PhRMA, has run TV and digital ads praising Sinema for the past two weeks, according to The Daily Poster, and sent out pro-Sinema mailers urging recipients to thank the senator for “fighting as an independent voice.” The group’s board includes at least two PhRMA lobbyists who work on drug pricing issues and represent numerous pharmaceutical companies.

So, to the question of why she is taking such an unpopular position, the answer is, she’s being paid to take it.

There’s been a discussion going on at Talking Points Memo this week about why the senator from Arizona behaves as she does. The emerging consensus is that she really has no core convictions or values other than fancying herself to be “independent” and a “maverick,” as some called the late Arizona Sen. John McCain. McCain did have moments of personal integrity, but he was still a creature of the Republican Party and went along with his party’s positions and talking points most of the time.  Sinema seems to be in a party by herself.

One correspondent from Arizona wrote at TPM,

Like you, I think she believes that passing the Sinema-Romney infrastructure bill will prove that she can get things done in bipartisan fashion. Now apparently she’s got Big Pharma and the Chamber telling her she’s gotta put the brakes on reconciliation because it threatens too many of their interests. And her Dem colleagues are saying she can’t have one without the other.

She’s in a DC bubble of her own making. She has virtually no in-state presence, no public schedule, no press conferences, no interaction with regular voters, and other than industry-funded SuperPACs, no support system. She’s in a tough spot, and she put herself there.

Poll numbers show that Arizona voters are not happy with Sinema. She got a tepid 54 percent approval from Democrats based overwhelmingly on “somewhat approve” rather than “strongly approve,” which doesn’t look good campared to the 85 percent approval of Mark Kelly, the other Democratic senator from Arizona. Independent voters, the group she is allegedly trying to impress, gave her only a 40 percent approval. Both Mark Kelly and Joe Biden did better with independents.

Josh Marshall wrote that Sinema is “cratering” in Arizona.

When Arizona Democratic primary voters (who can be Dems or independents) were given the options of “I would vote to reelect Kyrsten Sinema” or “I would vote for a different candidate who would get rid of the filibuster” the numbers were basically catastrophic. Sinema got 22% and the unnamed filibuster-buster got 66%.

Yeah, she’s cratering.

When I talk to people who’ve known Sinema for a long time they talk about her ambition and mutability (not rare in politicians) but also her rigidity. There’s no deftness or nuance. It really seems like she got the idea she’s the next John McCain and that Arizona wants another independent maverick and that playing to DC “moderate” worship is her ticket to power and possibly a future presidential run. But it turns out she’s just too rigid and clumsy to pull it off and she appears to be on course to a one term career in the Senate as a result.

A presidential run? As a Democrat? By pissing off the party and Democratic voters everywhere? At this point I’m not sure she’ll be able to get work as a pharmaceutical lobbyist. Nobody likes her.

Dylan Scott writes at Vox that cutting prescription drug prices is critical to just about everything else Democrats want to do regarding health care.

Democrats had big dreams for health care reform this year. In the forthcoming budget reconciliation bill, they planned to cover millions of uninsured people and offer dental and vision benefits to people on Medicare, while also cutting prescription drug costs. …

… Right now, it all depends on the fate of the prescription drug proposals.

Democrats need to come up with a plan to pay for the health care provisions because centrists are demanding it. From an accounting perspective, the drug plan — which gives Medicare more power to set prices for medications — is projected to save the government hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming decades. Democrats are using those savings to expand coverage in Medicaid and Medicare.

Sinema is not the only Democrat who has apparently been bought by the pharmaceutical industry. For example, three Dem House members — Scott Peters (CA), Kurt Schrader (OR), and Kathleen Rice (NY) — also are fighting it. And the only apparent reason for their opposition is that they don’t want to give up the generous donations of the pharmaceutical industry.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

Back in July, Salon reported on Peters’ apparent flip-flop on H.R. 3, a Democratic-backed House bill aimed at radically reducing the price of high-cost drugs. Peters supported the measure in 2019. But in the years following, he received hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions from Big Pharma. Later he told Roll Call that the bill was a bad idea, saying that it would “dry up all the private investment that does that research.”

Do see this Atlantic article from 2019, Big Pharma’s Go-To Defense of Soaring Drug Prices Doesn’t Add Up. In brief, research and development costs have little to do with how drugs are priced in the U.S.

This is sad, not just because it’s likely to torpedo an important reform. Most voters have no idea what’s going on in Congress. They only know that, once again, Democrats failed to do much that was of any use to anyone. Might as well not bother to vote.