This vote was on an amendment that would have penalized pharmaceutical companies that are caught overcharging or engaging in fraud.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) offered the amendment during consideration of a bill that would extend Food and Drug Administration (FDA) programs. Sen. Sanders’ amendment took aim at prescription drug companies that use illegal marketing tactics, lie about the uses of a drug, or commit other fraudulent activity. The amendment would have stripped these companies of the monopoly they have on sales of their drugs. When pharmaceutical companies receive a patent on a new drug they developed, the government often gives them exclusive rights to sell the drug in the U.S. market.
Sen. Sanders recited a long list of cases in which drug companies were penalized for fraud. These companies are profiting off the backs of consumers and Congress should take a tough stance on illegal behavior, he argued.
“Virtually every major drug company has either been found guilty of, or settled charges of, significant fraud over the last 10 years. The question arises – and this is an important question – is fraud within the pharmaceutical industry the exception or is it, simply put, their business model?” Sen. Sanders said. “The question the Senate has got to address is, do we look away from this issue? Do we ignore this issue, or do we finally address the very important issue of fraud within the pharmaceutical industry, fraud being practiced by virtually every drug company in our country?”
Opponents of Sen. Sanders’ amendment argued that it would have unintended consequences that would ultimately hurt consumers. Drug companies spend money on research and development of life-saving drugs because they want the payoff that comes with the exclusive rights to sell them, they said. Sen. Sanders’ amendment would discourage companies from investing in research and make them fight harder against fraud charges, they argued.
“I wholeheartedly agree that bad actors who willfully commit fraud need to be punished, which is why we have the most incredible, stiff civil and criminal penalties in current law to prosecute those who commit fraud,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said. “But ultimately, taking away the incentives we have in place to attract investment in this important research, especially when the penalties could be triggered by a minor, unrelated offense – the way the amendment is written – is just plain and simple bad policy. It is akin to having the death penalty for a simple assault.”
Sen. Sanders’ amendment was defeated by a vote of 9-88. Voting “yea” were 8 Democrats, including a majority of progressives, and 1 Republican. Voting “nay” were 44 Republicans and 44 Democrats. As a result, the Senate defeated the effort to penalize pharmaceutical companies that are caught overcharging or engaging in fraud.