By Kanishka Singh
(Reuters) -U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders was working on getting a provision to lower prescription drug prices into the $1.75 trillion social spending bill pending in the U.S. Congress before a vote by the House of Representatives, with President Joe Biden expressing optimism the bill will come up for a vote this week.
Biden was dealt a setback on Thursday as the House abandoned plans for a vote on an infrastructure bill before his departure to Europe for an international summit https://www.reuters.com/subjects/g20 with other world leaders, with progressive Democrats seeking more time to consider his call for a separate $1.75 trillion plan to address climate measures, preschool and other social initiatives.
A proposal that would allow the U.S. government’s Medicare health plan for seniors to negotiate cheaper prices for prescription medicines was not included in the social spending bill.
“I spent all of yesterday on the telephone … We are continuing that effort (to include the prescription drug price provision in the bill),” Sanders told CNN in an interview on Sunday.
“It is outrageous that we continue to pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs,” added Sanders, who has championed that cause for years.
In a press briefing in Rome on Sunday, the U.S. president, who left for Europe for the G20 summit as top Democrats raced to close a deal on his economic agenda, expressed optimism for an imminent vote on the social spending bill.
The so-called Build Back Better framework, Biden said, “God willing, (is) gonna be voted on as early as some time this coming week.”
House Democrats have previously been signaling a vote could come as soon as Tuesday.
Biden had sought to unite his fellow Democrats behind the climate and social spending plan with personal appeals on Thursday, and had pressed for a Thursday vote on the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, another main plank of his domestic agenda.
He hoped a framework on the larger measure would convince progressive House Democrats to support the infrastructure bill, but their insistence that the two move together led House leaders to abandon a planned vote.
The plan also did not include paid family leave or a tax on billionaires, with some constituencies angered by the absence of key Biden administration pledges from the bill.
The absence of paid family leave, Democrats have noted, left the United States as the only rich country and one of the few nations in the world that does not pay women during maternity leave.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg suggested on Sunday that the fight for paid family leave was not over.
“It’s definitely something that we believe in, and so while it is not in this framework, we’re gonna keep fighting for it,” Buttigieg told ABC News in an interview.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in BengaluruAdditional reporting by Trevor Hunnicut in WashingtonEditing by Bill Berkrot and Matthew Lewis)