The Senate has spent the day on a must-pass FDA bill that reauthorizes a user fee from drug companies to finance FDA operations, in addition to making other changes to how the FDA deals with drug shortages. The bill is primed for passage in the House, so if it can get through the Senate without much controversy, it’s pretty well assured of a trip to the President’s desk. Which means that it was time for another round of failure on the common-sense proposal to reimport cheap and safe pharmaceuticals from Canada and elsewhere.

In reality, the drug reimportation bill is a second-order solution to the problem of over-inflated US drug prices. The real solution is to allow Medicare to use its bargaining power to make prescription drugs for seniors cheaper to purchase. That’s the simple way to lower federal costs, but it would cut into industry profits, so that never gets mentioned. So the second-order solution is to simply reimport the same drugs, which are sold just over the border in Canada at a cheaper price. John McCain and Sherrod Brown co-sponsored this amendment, and it fell today in the Senate, garnering just 43 votes. The drug lobby wins again.

“In a normal world this would probably require a voice vote. But what we’re about to see is the incredible influence of the special interests, particularly PhRMA,” McCain said. “What you’re about to see is the reason for the cynicism that the American people have about the way we do business here in Washington. PhRMA, one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, will exert its influence again at the expense of low-income Americans who will again have to choose between medication and eating.” [...]

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who opposed the bill, contested McCain’s premise.

“It is not the special interests that has caused the Senate countless times to reject this policy,” Menendez said on the floor. He argued that the amendment “puts Americans at risk, undermines the FDA’s authority, has a devastating ripple effect throughout the country’s drug supply by allowing foreign pharmaceuticals into the country.”

Menendez, the Senator from Johnson and Johnson, who represents a state with an inordinate amount of drug industry interests, has been the willing stooge to push the false line that resistance to reimportation has something to do with safety. In reality, we’re talking about the same drugs manufactured at the same location, only some happen to go to Canada for less because they use their bargaining power. Menendez ran this same game during the Affordable Care Act debate when this amendment was brought up by Byron Dorgan. Back then, reimportation got 51 votes. So there’s been a regression. Here is today’s roll call. Democrats split on the vote 26-26 (Richard Blumenthal didn’t vote); Republicans voted against it 28-17.

The bill eventually passed by a vote of 96-1. The House plans to take up the bill next week.