'Enough to Make Me Gag': Warren and Sanders Decry Latest Big Pharma Giveaway

U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have come out swinging against a heavily lobbied healthcare bill they say has been “hijacked” by Big Pharma.

The 21st Century Cures Act, poised to pass the House on Wednesday and the Senate soon after, would ostensibly advance medical innovation with increased funding for initiatives like Vice President Joe Biden’s cancer “moonshot” and Alzheimer’s research as well as provisions to accelerate the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval process.

“Will this Congress say that yes, we’re bought and paid for, or will we stand up and work for the American people?”
—Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Unsurprisingly, it has attracted significant interest from the pharmaceutical industry—according to Kaiser Health News: “Other than major appropriations bills, a transportation spending bill, and an energy infrastructure funding bill, the Cures Act garnered more lobbying activity than any of the more than 11,000 bills proposed in the 114th Congress, an analysis of the [Center for Responsive Politics] data shows.”

Despite skepticism (pdf) from some liberal advocacy and labor groups, the bill is “expected to win support from other Democrats, who have been negotiating with Republicans for months,” The Hill reported Tuesday.

But in a floor speech Monday evening, Warren said the legislation is an example of how lawmakers are beholden to big-moneyed special interests.

“And when American voters say Congress is owned by big companies, this bill is exactly what they are talking about,” she said. “Now, we face a choice. Will this Congress say that yes, we’re bought and paid for, or will we stand up and work for the American people?” 

She decried the bill’s bipartisan support as based on false promises—and charged that in fact, Democrats have been victims of “extortion.”

“Republican leaders are playing a crafty game, trying to buy off Democratic votes, one-by-one, by tacking on good, bipartisan proposals that Senators in both parties have worked on, in good faith, for years,” the progressive senator said to a mostly empty chamber. “A bipartisan mental health bill. Bipartisan provisions protecting the genetic privacy of patients. Bipartisan provisions to give some very limited funding for important priorities like our national opioid crisis and the Vice President’s Cancer Moonshot initiative. A proposal to improve foster care.” 

“I support most of these proposals,” she said. “I’ve worked on many of them for years. I even wrote several of them myself. If this bill becomes law, there is no question it will contain some real legislative accomplishments.”

“But I cannot vote for this bill,” she continued. “I will fight it because I know the difference between compromise and extortion.”