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Why House Republicans quietly rejected a bipartisan drug bill

Dems still do not intend to work with anti-election Republicans, at least not anytime soon. It's affecting the legislative process.
Image: Clouds form above the Capitol on March 28, 2021.
Clouds form above the Capitol on March 28, 2021.Al Drago / Getty Images

It didn't generate a lot of attention, but House Republicans this week rejected a bill they supported for an interesting reason. The Hill reported:

The House on Tuesday failed to pass a previously noncontroversial bill meant to allow more treatments for opioid use to go to market in a sign that tensions over the Jan. 6 insurrection still linger more than four months later. House Democratic leaders had scheduled a vote on the legislation, titled the Fairness in Orphan Drug Exclusivity Act, under an expedited process for bipartisan measures that requires a two-thirds supermajority for passage. While the bill previously passed by voice vote last November, on Tuesday night, all but 36 Republicans voted against it.

This was supposed to be an easy one. As The Hill's report explained, the Fairness in Orphan Drug Exclusivity Act is designed to facilitate "development of so-called 'orphan drugs' for rare diseases, by requiring all drugs that secure seven years of market exclusivity to prove that there isn't an expectation that the manufacturer will recover the costs of research and development through sales."

When Congress took up the bill in the last Congress, it enjoyed bipartisan support, which is why Democratic leaders brought to the floor this week on the suspension calendar (used for uncontroversial legislation). Under the procedural rules, it needed a two-thirds majority to pass. Instead, the proposal received 250 votes, which wasn't quite enough.

So why did the GOP minority balk? As Forbes reported, Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) wanted to be the listed as the co-lead sponsor of the bill, along with Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.). Dean said that wasn't an option: Carter was one of the House Republicans who voted to reject the results of the 2020 presidential election in January, and many Democrats aren't willing to cooperate with anti-election GOP lawmakers. Indeed, it's become a litmus test for much of the majority party: Democrats will only work with Republicans who respect democracy.

Carter wouldn't certify President Joe Biden's election victory, so Dean said she was "not comfortable" with him as the co-lead sponsor on her bill.

This, evidently, hurt Republicans' feelings, so they killed the bill out of spite.

As a substantive matter, the setback was temporary. House Democratic leaders have already said they'll bring the bill back under regular order, and it'll pass with relative ease.

But the circumstances that led to this relatively obscure fight aren't going away: Dems still do not intend to work with anti-election Republicans, at least not anytime soon.

Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.) recently told NBC News that he's ready to work across the aisle, but he's drawing "a sharp red line" at working with Republicans who voted not to certify the Electoral College results in January.

He's hardly alone. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.) told NBC News she's only willing to work with Republicans who "recognize the lawful election of Joe Biden." She added, "If you don't recognize our democracy at this point in time, then I don't think you're going to be helpful to successful legislation." Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) recently filed a bipartisan bill related to expanding eligibility for kidney disease insurance, but she balked at cooperation from her anti-election GOP colleagues.

As we've discussed, just as a matter of arithmetic, this approach creates a challenge for Democrats eager to introduce legislation with bipartisan support: a majority of the Republicans in the House voted to reject the results of the 2020 presidential election. Dems limiting their partners to pro-democracy GOP lawmakers have a limited group of members to consider.

But there's something to be said for accountability. The Republicans who voted to reject Biden's victory may have assumed they could do so without paying a price. They could simply go back to being a member in good standing, as if nothing of historic significance had happened.

Instead, they're finding that some of their colleagues still see them as pariahs.