Sanders joins conservatives to oppose drug bill

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(Host) Vermont Congressman Bernie Sanders says an unusual political coalition was behind a recent defeat for the powerful pharmaceutical industry. The U.S. House voted to allow Americans to buy lower-priced prescription drugs from other countries. Sanders says the bill passed because conservative Republicans teamed up with Democrats and Independents.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) In Washington, Sanders is known as one of the most left-leaning members of the U.S. House. But on the drug importation issue, he worked closely with Representative Dan Burton, a conservative Republican from Indiana.

Burton was one of about 80 Republicans who voted in favor of the legislation. The bill – which faces strong opposition in the Senate – orders the government to set up a plan for Americans to buy drugs from Canada, the European Union and seven other countries. Sanders says a unique political coalition rallied support for the bill. He says the same coalition also came together on legislation that rolls back new federal rules on media ownership:

(Sanders) “And these are people who have fundamental philosophical disagreements. But whether it is the pharmaceutical industry, or the large, multinational media conglomerates, these are folks who are saying we are sick and tired of big corporations running this country and the American people deserve a break. And in this case, the American people deserve a break from paying the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.”

(Dillon) Sanders first highlighted the issue of lower-cost Canadian pharmaceuticals three years ago when he led a bus tour over the border for seniors to buy prescriptions.

The industry lobbied hard against the House bill. Opponents say it will lead to the spread of dangerous, counterfeit drugs. Drug company lobbyists also worked with anti-abortion groups to fight the legislation. They argued that the bill would make it easier for women to obtain the RU-486 abortion pill. Sanders says some conservatives didn’t buy that argument.

(Sanders) “I think it backfired because it showed the desperateness of the issue, their willingness to lie about that issue. And what you had was a number of anti-choice members of Congress saying hey this has nothing to do with abortion. I think they were exposed in that and their credibility went even lower than it had before.”

(Dillon) The legislation now goes to the Senate, where supporters hope it will be added to legislation on Medicare drug benefits.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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