Why Does Kyrsten Sinema Oppose Drug Pricing Reform? Maybe This Is Why.

Senator Kyrsten Sinema
Senator Kyrsten Sinema Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who is a top recipient of donations from the pharmaceutical industry, is reportedly objecting to prescription drug pricing reforms that are being pushed by President Biden and Congressional Democrats.

The White House and Congressional Democrats are currently trying to shepherd two large bills through Congress: the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal that the Senate approved last month and a larger $3.5 trillion spending plan that would fund services like free universal childcare by boosting taxes on high-income earners and corporations. Democrats are trying to pass the larger spending plan through a process called budget reconciliation, which allows them to pass it with a party-line vote.

Both plans include provisions that would allow the federal government to negotiate the price of pharmaceuticals for Medicare recipients, a policy intended to reduce the cost of description drugs. However, it appears that Senator Sinema, who championed the bipartisan infrastructure deal just last month, is opposed to the drug pricing reform proposals. With their current razor-thin majorities in both the House and Senate, Democrats need every vote to pass the spending plans.

Politico reported yesterday that Sinema is "opposed to the current drug prescription drug pricing proposals in both the House and Senate Bills" and that she "doesn't support a pared-back alternative" that is being pushed by centrist Democrats in the House who are squeamish about the provisions. Sinema also allegedly told President Biden during a September 15 meeting that she was opposed to the proposals, though the report notes that it's "unclear" if the Arizona senator is "completely immovable."

Why might Sinema have such reservations? One reason might be that she has significant financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry. According to opensecrets.org, Sinema has taken more than $466,000 from individuals and political action committees tied to the pharmaceutical industry since she was first elected in 2018. Last year, Kaiser Health News dubbed Sinema a "pharma favorite in Congress" who is a "leading recipient of pharma campaign cash" even though she won't have to run for reelection until 2024.

Sinema's office did not respond to Phoenix New Times' request for comment.

Her opposition to the proposed drug pricing reforms prompted fierce criticism from notable progressives such as Robert Reich, the former U.S. Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton. Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has also criticized Sinema for her alleged threat to kill the larger spending bill if the House doesn't vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package by September 27.

"Changing the terms of a deal after it's done is what one does when trying to tank millions of people's chances at healthcare, childcare, climate protection, & unions," Ocasio-Cortez wrote in a tweet thread posted yesterday. "If one member's irrational demand tanks infrastructure, healthcare, & climate for the whole country then maybe that's the real entitlement reform we should be looking at."
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Josh Kelety is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Inlander and Seattle Weekly.
Contact: Josh Kelety