Culpeper Star-Exponent: Op-Ed: Rep. Spanberger: To lower drug prices, we must confront special interests’ influence on our politics


As I was running for Congress in 2018, people across my district voiced a clear concern that Washington wasn’t working for them, and was instead serving corporate and special interests.

No matter the topic we discussed—prescription drug prices, retirement security, voting rights, environmental protections, or healthcare costs—people expressed a doubt that change or progress could be achieved because of the power of these monied interests.

It was clear to me as a candidate, and remains so now that I am a member of Congress, that we must earnestly work to restore the confidence of voters and take concrete legislative action to eliminate the influence of special interests.

That’s why I was proud to help lead the effort to pass the For the People Act (H.R. 1) last March. This bill would limit the power of special interests, strengthen campaign-finance requirements and ethics rules, and restore accountability in Washington at a time when it’s all too rare.

This week, we mark the one-year anniversary of H.R. 1’s passage in the House.

Unfortunately, this comprehensive package of campaign finance and ethics reforms has gone nowhere in the U.S. Senate. For the past year, Senate Majority Leader McConnell has blocked action on this legislation, refusing to bring it for a vote. This is an example of what’s broken; one man can stand in the way of major reforms on Capitol Hill. My argument is a simple one: The Senate should bring this bill to a vote and let it pass or fail on its merits.

This bill is one of nearly 400 measures—including 275 bipartisan bills—that passed in the House last year but have been refused a vote in the Senate. As an American, I’m frustrated by these unjustifiable stall tactics. And as a representative, I’m deeply concerned by their consequences. One of these consequences is the continuation of rising prescription drug costs.

In December 2019, I voted to pass the Lower Drug Costs Now Act. This bill—supported by Democrats and Republicans—would give Medicare Part D the power to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. To be clear, in our capitalist country, Medicare is legally prohibited from negotiating the price of prescriptions, and it’s our seniors who pay the price. But the bipartisan bill that would fix this still has not gotten a vote in the Senate.

I’ve been clear that this bill needs to become law, because skyrocketing drug prices are harming the health and financial security of our neighbors across Central Virginia’s 7th District. In fact, according to one 2017 survey, 23 percent of Virginians stopped taking their prescription medications due to cost. Across the district at town halls, community events and in our prescription drug survey, I have heard the stories behind the statistics.

“There are three medications that I have had to forego using because of the cost,” Thomas from Culpeper told my office in response to our survey. “Because Medicare cannot negotiate prices, there seems no hope of stopping Big Pharma except by changing the Medicare Part D rules.”

Thomas is right to be worried about the influence of the pharmaceutical industry. Last year, the industry’s lobbyists spent a record $295 million lobbying the federal government to water down legislation that could harm their bottom line. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the industry hired more than 1,400 lobbyists last year. That’s three for every single member of the House.

Parents struggling to pay for their kids’ insulin, as well as seniors worrying about their heart medications, can’t afford to hire lobbyists or create corporate PACs. These companies shouldn’t be able to buy their way out of accountability in Washington, and that’s why legislation like H.R. 1 is so important.

The For the People Act would combat a culture of corruption in Washington by requiring mega-donors to properly disclose their donations, strengthening federal ethics rules while reducing the power of lobbyists, and protecting the right to vote.

From my time at the CIA to my time in the House, I’ve dedicated my career to protecting our democracy and ensuring it works for all of us. H.R. 1 was one of the first bills to pass in the House in 2019, and one year later, it’s time for Majority Leader McConnell to stop stonewalling and allow a vote on this critical legislation.

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