What: All Issues : Government Checks on Corporate Power : Pharmaceutical Industry : S 1082 (Food and Drug Administration overhaul) Motion to end debate on an amendment by Dorgan of North Dakota allowing prescription drugs to be imported from overseas/On the cloture motion (2007 senate Roll Call 150)
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S 1082 (Food and Drug Administration overhaul) Motion to end debate on an amendment by Dorgan of North Dakota allowing prescription drugs to be imported from overseas/On the cloture motion
senate Roll Call 150     May 03, 2007
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This vote occurred on an attempt to bring debate on an amendment to a close (known as a "cloture motion" in the Senate). If the Senate votes to "invoke cloture" – or bring debate to a close – then lawmakers must either hold a vote on the legislation or amendment in question, or move on to other business. This type of motion is most often called on contentious bills or amendments where the leadership is concerned that consideration could be held up indefinitely by a handful of unhappy politicians.

The amendment in question was offered by Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and would allow Americans to purchase prescription drugs from Canada and several other Western countries (a process sometimes called "drug reimportation"). The White House threatened to veto the bill if the amendment was included, and debate on this contentious issue spilled over several days as Republicans held up progress. This necessitated the motion to bring discussions to a close, Democrats said.

The motion occurred on a bill that would overhaul the FDA's drug approval program. This program essentially allows pharmaceutical companies to pay the FDA to review and possibly approve their new drugs, if they are found to be safe.

Many progressives (along with a few Republicans who dislike any market restrictions) support the idea of allowing Americans to purchase prescription drugs from other countries, where drug prices are generally cheaper, even for the same product. Progressives and others support drug reimportation because they believe it would help drive down health care costs and make prescription drugs more affordable for low-income Americans, including the elderly and others on fixed incomes.

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the price for prescription drugs in the United States has outpaced cost growth in every other health category. The CBO also found that in 2002, U.S. patented drug prices were 67 percent higher on average than those in Canada.

"Consumers in the United States now pay far more for prescription drugs than consumers in other countries. If Americans could legally and safely access prescription drugs from outside the United States under a regulation that we established to guarantee safety, drug companies will be forced to reevaluate the price strategies that they have for American consumers," said Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a long-time critic of the FDA, which he believes is too beholden to pharmaceutical companies. "They would no longer be able to gouge American consumers by making them pay more than their fair share for the high cost of research and development. The American consumer of pharmaceutical products pays for most of the research and development that benefits the entire world."

Those who oppose allowing drug reimportation say it is a matter of safety. They argue that those who purchase prescription drugs from other countries risk ingesting drugs that are counterfeit, that have been tampered with or are otherwise unsafe. They point to the same CBO report that concluded, finally, that allowing drug reimportation in the United States would only create a "modest" cost savings, in part because of the middle-men involved in sales and because of the potential for other countries to enact export limits.

"To accept the importation of foreign drugs is to open the door for a cottage industry today to become a mega industry tomorrow by supplying counterfeit drugs with no active ingredient, with the potential that there are ingredients in it that are adulterated, that will not only not solve the health problems but, as has been proven in the pet food supply, could kill," said Richard M. Burr, R-N.C.

By a vote of 63-28, the Senate voted to limit debate on Dorgan's amendment.. Democrats were united in voting to limit debate. Most Republicans voted not to limit debate, but were more divided, with 16 voting with Democrats. Thus, debate was limited on the amendment and the Senate proceeded to a vote on the amendment itself.

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