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Commerce, Justice, Science, And Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, D.C.


Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I say to the distinguished manager, the Senator from Maryland, that I will be glad to interrupt my amendment upon the return of the Senator from Alabama, if he wishes to speak, and then I will continue after that. I thank the Senator from Maryland for her hard work and excellent explanation of the legislation before the Senate.

This amendment would lower health care costs for Americans immediately. It would provide access to safe, less expensive imported prescription drugs. For far too long, powerful lobbyists from the pharmaceutical industry have stood in the way of Americans' access to affordable imported drugs. Their enormous political campaign contributions made in return for political support of their agenda and their secret unsavory deal with the White House in exchange for their support of the health care reform have further contributed to the American people being prevented from accessing cheaper prescription drugs.

Instead, Americans continue to pay 60 percent or higher for the same prescription drugs that are sold in Canada. This amendment is necessary because Americans need access to lower cost drugs now. They need it now due to these difficult economic times. We all know about unemployment. Americans' salaries are being cut, household budgets are slim, and millions of Americans are struggling to make their monthly mortgage payments. For these reasons, and so many more, Americans should not be forced to wait another day to purchase safe and affordable prescription drugs from outside the United States. While Americans all over the country are having to choose between their next meal and their necessary prescriptions, the large pharmaceutical companies continue to pressure Congress to delay consideration of any legislation to allow the importation of safe and lower priced prescription drugs.

I would like to also point out this is legislation on an appropriations bill, something I have long opposed, and still oppose. But there has been an unusual process taking place, and that process is one which has forced me to come to this situation. On two separate occasions the majority leader of the Senate assured me that legislation would be taken up before the Senate, and both times he has changed his mind. The majority leader resisted consideration of an amendment to allow for the importation of prescription drugs during debate on the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.

At the time, the majority leader said on the Senate floor:

This is something that should have been done, I am sorry to say, years ago, not weeks ago.

This issue is important legislation. If it should have been done years ago, then why wasn't it brought up for consideration immediately after the tobacco bill in June? While the stand-alone bill to allow importation--S. 1232--was placed on the Senate's calendar on June 11, 2009, there has been no further effort by the majority leader to call it up for consideration. Instead, he sent me a letter stating:

I committed to take up legislation that would permit the safe importation of lower-cost prescription drugs as soon as practicable.

The practicable time was back in June. There is no practical reason to prevent the majority leader from calling up this bill for a vote at any time.

I was told verbally by the majority leader as short a time as 3 weeks ago that upon the completion of consideration of the Defense appropriations bill that this legislation would be brought to the floor of the Senate. Then a week later I was told, no; that is not going to be the case. So I have been waiting for ``as soon as practicable,'' and so have millions of Americans who are looking for cheaper alternatives to the high-priced prescription drugs.

The majority leader also stated in his letter:

If this issue is not addressed during the full Senate's consideration of comprehensive health reform, I guarantee that I will move to proceed to S. 1232 before the end of the year.

The majority leader of the Senate assured me it would be taken up after completion of the Department of Defense appropriations bill, which we have completed. Given the fact that it is possible that the health care reform bill will be brought up under a truncated pressure timeline, I have little faith that real, in-depth consideration of prescription drug import legislation will come about; therefore, I have no choice but to bring this issue up today as an amendment to this appropriations bill.

In the 2008 election cycle, pharmaceutical companies gave almost $30 million in campaign contributions to Members of Congress. Just this year, according to an article published in The Hill, the prescription drug industry has given more than $1 million to Republicans and Democrats, and the companies whip up their protector in Congress each time we bring forward legislation to help Americans get the imported prescription drugs they need.

Earlier this year, I read an e-mail sent by the top lobbyist for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, known as PhRMA--this was back in June--which stated:

The Senate is on the bill today. Unless we get some significant movement, the full blown Dorgan or Vitter bill will pass. We are trying to get Senator Dorgan to back down, calling the White House, and Senator Reid. Our understanding is that Senator McCain has said he will offer regardless. Please make sure your staff is fully engaged in this process. This is real.

That was an e-mail from a lobbyist of PhRMA, which has given millions and millions in campaign contributions.

Guess what. In the immortal words of Jack Nicholson: I'm back. I am back on the Senate floor, trying to help millions of Americans who have lost their jobs, struggling to put food on the table, by giving them the opportunity to save on their prescription drugs immediately.

Recently, the White House struck a deal with a pharmaceutical company to further protect its profits. The deal was bragged about by the head of the company's trade association, who cashed in for millions of dollars once he wrote the Medicare prescription drug benefit legislation as a Congressman. He was quoted in an article in the New York Times, published August 6, 2009, stating that the White House ``wanted a big player to come in and set the bar for everybody else.''

The same article stated:

Mr. Tauzin said the White House had tracked the negotiations throughout, assenting to decisions to move away from ideas like the government negotiation of prices or the importation of cheaper drugs from Canada. The $80 billion in savings would be over a 10-year period.

Analyze that comment by the head lobbyist of one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. He is saying the White House agreed to move away from--in other words, not support--ideas such as government negotiation of prices. Government negotiation of prices is absolutely necessary. We did it in the prescription drug bill, and it has reduced costs. In other words, the pharmaceutical companies would have to compete for Medicare contracts. One would think that is an obvious solution to bringing down costs.

The second, of course, is the importation of cheaper drugs from Canada. Here everybody is talking about reducing health care costs. We know that importation of less expensive drugs would save health care costs for the American consumer. But the White House apparently, according to Mr. Tauzin, agreed they would not support importation of less expensive drugs from Canada--a remarkable comment. You know, people wonder why the tea parties are going on, why the approval rating of Congress is so low--amazing. The Fraser Institute found in 2008 that Canadians paid on average 53 percent less than Americans for identical brand-name drugs. Specifically, the institute found that the most commonly prescribed brand-name drug, Lipitor, is 40 percent less in Canada, Crestor is 57 percent less in Canada, and the popular arthritis drug Celebrex is 62 percent less expense in Canada. Americans would love a 60-percent-off coupon for prescription drugs and deserve such a discount now more than ever.

I have been working on this issue for many years, and I will continue to do so. Americans should not have to wait a day longer for relief from higher prices for drugs. Inexplicably, the majority leader keeps delaying consideration of this needed legislation, which has now forced me to offer an amendment on the current appropriations bill. However, I believe it is necessary to protect all Americans' interests in obtaining affordable prescription drugs. The amendment states that no funds can be used to prosecute those who seek to import prescription drugs that have been approved by the FDA. If the big drug companies are getting an $80 billion savings, shouldn't we give a savings to American consumers? Why not now?

Again, I want to say there is going to be a point of order raised on this bill, and with righteous indignation people will say it doesn't belong on an appropriations bill. We just finished a Defense appropriations bill loaded--and I will have a list of them--with unauthorized appropriations on that bill. Every appropriations bill we take up has unauthorized appropriations, ranging from $300,000 for a museum in Nebraska to the addition of C-17s for $2.5 billion. The argument that somehow we should not be taking up this legislation on this bill flies in the face of what has been common practice around here, even though I do not agree with it.

Let me say this, too. If I had full and complete confidence that this amendment would get a full and complete airing as an amendment on the health care bill, I would be glad to withdraw this amendment. I will be glad to withdraw this amendment if we have assurance this amendment will be taken up on the health care bill. There are all kinds of things that are going to be done in passage of the health care reform legislation--so-called--on the floor of the Senate.

I see my friend from North Dakota here. I have appreciated his efforts for a long time. He and I have been working on this for a long time. It is a fact that I received the word of the majority leader that this bill would be taken up and that has not happened. That has happened twice. I must say it has never happened to me before in the years I have been a Member of the Senate.

I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record the New York Times article of August 6, 2009, ``White House Affirms Deal on Drug Costs.''

I also ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record the letter from Senator Reid to Senator Snowe, Senator Dorgan, and to me.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD


Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I wish to say again that we have been told time after time that this legislation would come before the Senate. It has not. I do not know what process the majority leader will use--reconciliation, fill up the tree, vote on cloture, make this amendment nongermane. I have no confidence. If I had the confidence that this amendment would be taken up in a regular order fashion and that the full Senate would vote on it on the health reform bill, I would have some confidence we could get it done. In the absence of that, I will seek a vote on this amendment.

If there is a budget point of order on this amendment, let no one be fooled: It is not because they do not want to violate the budget rules of the Senate, because they violated them in every possible way in previous appropriations bills, to the tune of billions of dollars.

I yield the floor.


Mr. McCAIN. Will the Senator yield for a question?

Mr. DORGAN. Of course, I will yield.

Mr. McCAIN. I am very grateful for the leadership Senator Dorgan has shown on this issue for many years and it has been a pleasure and an honor to work with him on that and many other issues.

I ask my colleague, does the letter that was sent by the majority leader to you and to me and to the Senator from Maine, Ms. Snowe--I know you have read it--does it concern you that the last paragraph of the letter says:

Not withstanding these obstacles, I stand by my earlier commitment to make sure the Senate considers S. 1232 as soon as practicable.

And then this is the question I have for the Senator from North Dakota.

If this issue is not addressed during the full Senate's consideration of comprehensive health reform, I guarantee that I will move to proceed to S. 1232 before the end of the year.

My question to the Senator from North Dakota is: Why would there be any question in the majority leader's mind that you or I and Senator Snowe would let a health reform bill go to the floor and be voted on without it being passed? It seems to me, and may I say, because I have been told twice by the majority leader we would take it up--and those commitments have been reversed--would it not concern you a little bit when it says: `` ..... if this issue is not addressed during the full Senate's consideration of comprehensive health reform .....''

That is my question. That is what I am concerned about, that parliamentary procedures would be used. You and I have seen it before. The tree filled up. Cloture invoked, et cetera, where there have not been amendments that were clearly important to that legislation, not allowed to be considered.

That is my question to my friend from North Dakota.

Mr. DORGAN. Let me say to Senator McCain that I expect the job of majority leader is a pretty tough job. I have watched from Bob Dole on, Tom Daschle, and so many majority leaders and minority leaders try to run this place. It is pretty hard to run. Trying to figure out a schedule is pretty difficult. So I respect the difficulties of juggling all these things.

With respect to the specific letter Senator McCain referred to, Senator McCain, I, and Senator Snowe all talked to the majority leader about this issue when the tobacco bill was on the floor of the Senate because we were fully intending to offer our prescription drug reimportation bill.


Mr. McCAIN. Would you not feel better if the letter said--I know I would feel better if the letter said: I expect this issue to be brought up in the health reform bill.

Instead, there is a loophole, with all due respect, that if it isn't addressed during the full Senate's consideration, ``I guarantee I will move to it before the end of the year.'' Each day going by, seniors and, in fact, all citizens are paying a higher price for prescription drugs. Frankly, we should never have made that agreement when the tobacco bill was taken up because we could have passed it. Today seniors could be paying as much as 60 percent less for their prescription drugs. But we know what happened. The pharmaceutical companies weighed in with all of their clout. I urge the Senator from North Dakota to go back and get this language changed. The majority leader looked me in the eye and said: We will take this up after we finish the Department of Defense appropriations bill. And then decided not to do it. Maybe the Senator from North Dakota understands why I am skeptical about the interpretation of a letter that could be interpreted so that we don't take it up in the health care reform bill.


Mr. McCAIN. If the Senator will yield further for one final question.

Mr. DORGAN. I am happy to yield.

Mr. McCAIN. I have great sympathy for attempting to schedule legislation in this body. I think our friend Trent Lott maybe didn't invent it, but he used to say that it is like herding cats, conducting business in the Senate. I agree with that.

I know the Senator from North Dakota is aware that no matter what the problems are, if the majority leader says: I will take up this bill, then you have to take his word. My question to the Senator from North Dakota is, can we get a commitment from the majority leader that parliamentary procedures will not be used to block consideration of the issue of importation of pharmaceutical drugs?

Mr. DORGAN. Mr. President, I believe that commitment has already been made by the majority leader.

Mr. McCAIN. The letter is ambivalent.

Mr. DORGAN. I understand that. That is why I said I think the letter perhaps is not artfully drafted with respect to that last paragraph. I believe that commitment has been made to me because I went to the majority leader following the release of that letter. I have found over a long period that when the majority leader gives me a commitment, I believe he will keep the commitment.

Mr. McCAIN. I have not had that experience.

Mr. DORGAN. I understand, but I believe the Senator will have that experience when health care comes to the floor and he and I are on the floor with our colleague Senator Snowe and others pushing for a solid piece of legislation that has broad bipartisan support. The Senator then will understand the commitment was made and the commitment was kept. I believe that will be the case.

Mr. McCAIN. All I can say to my friend is, if we can get a commitment that parliamentary procedures will not be used to block consideration of an amendment concerning importation of prescription drugs, I will withdraw this amendment from this bill.

Mr. DORGAN. I believe that commitment has been made to me. In any event, we are here on the floor on a Wednesday talking about something I believe is very important, and we have worked on this for a long time. We have spent a lot of time working on it. I don't intend to decide: OK, somebody is going to put up some barriers and that is OK with me. That is all right. And I don't think Senator Reid is going to do that. He has made a commitment to me that will not be the case. I am convinced that Senator McCain and I and others who have put this legislation together will have our day, and everybody else will have to stand up and say yes or no. I hope when the roll is called, we have sufficient numbers, finally, at long last, to pass legislation that should have been passed 8 years ago. Again, I appreciate the comments Senator McCain has made this morning. I will have further visits with him.

I know Senator Mikulski has a bill on the floor she wishes to manage, and we don't want to be in the way of that. My view is that we are going to have our bill on this floor with a full debate and an up-or-down vote, and that will come as a result of Senator Reid keeping his commitment. I am convinced of that.

I yield the floor.

The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Kaufman). The Senator from Arizona.

Mr. McCAIN. Very briefly, I say to Senator Dorgan, I appreciate his efforts, his leadership. I appreciate everything he has done. We have had the privilege of working together on many issues over the years. I wish to be sure that when the health reform bill comes up, there will not be parliamentary obstacles from that happening. I have seen the will of the majority thwarted on the floor of the Senate by certain parliamentary maneuvers--filling up the tree, for example. The Senator from North Dakota is as familiar as I am with some parliamentary procedures which can be employed by the majority and have been employed when both parties have been in the majority to thwart the ability of Senators to have their issues considered. That is what I want to see, is to make sure that when the health reform bill is before us, we will take it up.

But the sentence reads:

If this issue is not addressed during the full Senate's consideration of comprehensive reform .....

My question is, why wouldn't it? Why is that sentence necessary? All I can say is that I hope we can get that assurance. If we do, I will withdraw the amendment and allow this appropriations bill to receive full consideration and be passed by the Senate.

Mr. DORGAN. Mr. President, I intend to offer several amendments to the health care bill. I have not had a chance. I am not part of a gang of anything. I wasn't part of the Gang of 6. I am not part of the Finance or HELP Committees. This is my first opportunity. I have some things I think can improve it. If a bill comes to the floor with procedures--and it will not happen--that lock this up and we can't offer amendments, I wouldn't stand for that. I am not going to be a part of that process. My expectation and the representation made to me with respect to this amendment is when that bill comes to the floor, we will have an opportunity to offer amendments. I don't know how you would get health care through the Senate if the proposition would be that somebody says: The Gang of 6, they had their 6 months or 3 months, whatever they did. And the two committees had their opportunity. But the rest of you, sorry, can't do that. In that circumstance, health care would not be passed through the Senate. Perhaps we have tortured this subject to death.

Mr. McCAIN. We have probably tortured it to death. Considering the fact that reconciliation continues to be held out there as an option by the majority is also a factor about which I have been concerned. All we need is a clarification to make sure there will be no parliamentary obstacles to consideration of the amendment of the Senator from North Dakota, an effort joined by me and Senator Snowe and others, to allow prescription drugs to be imported into the United States.

I yield the floor.


Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I have received assurances that there will be no blocks or impediments to consideration of the prescription drug importation issue, which I and a number of us have been seeking a vote on for a number of years. I have been given assurances that there will be no impediments to bringing that issue up when health reform is before the Senate. Therefore, I withdraw the amendment.


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