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Joyce opposes drug price plan

Since taking office this year, U.S. Rep. John Joyce, R-13th District, has made much of his efforts to lower drug prices. But he appears to draw the line at a new congressional push to let the government negotiate Medicare drug costs.

Joyce, a physician by trade, has cosponsored and even submitted bills on drug prices and availability. In May, he introduced a bill that would make it easier for cheaper generic drugs to enter the market. Just last week, he signed on as a cosponsor to the bipartisan Cancer Drug Parity Act, which would require insurers to cover new oral versions of chemotherapy treatments.

With a House vote planned as soon as next week to let the government cap Medicare costs and negotiate drug prices, however, Joyce appears set to vote no.

“Unfortunately, Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi’s partisan drug pricing plan, H.R. 3, isn’t the answer,” Joyce said in a written response to questions. “Instead of pushing innovation-stifling legislation that has zero chance of becoming law, Congress should continue collaborating on commonsense solutions that will deliver real results for American patients.”

The “innovation-stifling” line is a common one among GOP lawmakers, who oppose efforts to let the federal government negotiate lower prices with manufacturers. While advocates say the policy would save the government hundreds of billions of dollars and reduce prices for seniors, opponents — including those in the pharmaceutical industry — say it would leave less money for drug research.

The Congressional Budget Office has said the House bill, sponsored by California Democrat Pelosi, could cut patient costs for affected drugs as much as 55 percent — with those on private insurance enjoying the benefits as well.

There appears to be little hope for Pelosi’s bill. The White House objects, and the GOP-controlled Senate is unlikely to pass it. While President Donald Trump supported government drug price negotiations with manufacturers during the 2016 election, he has since taken a less firm stance.

Instead, Republicans on Thursday pointed to an alternative bill — unavailable on the House website as of last week — that they say will cap some Medicare drug costs. Joyce pointed to “more than 40 bipartisan provisions” in the GOP-backed alternative, but Pelosi’s plan could get a vote in the next few days.

Toomey speaks out on trade fight

While Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., is a consistent Trump backer — voting with the president 88 percent of the time, according to tracker FiveThirtyEight — the president’s trade wars are too much to stomach.

Toomey, who has pushed free-trade legislation in the past, often saves his Trump criticism for overseas tariffs. That was the case this week, when Toomey publicly disputed a new round of steel tariffs against manufacturers in Brazil and Argentina.

Trump has picked fights with governments from China to Europe to Latin America, slapping hefty tariffs on manufactured goods in hopes of forcing foreign powers to the bargaining table. Even usually loyal GOP lawmakers bristle at the protectionist policies, which can drive up domestic prices.

Last Monday, Toomey said Trump’s latest tariffs — carried out under a “national security” justification — were unjustified.

“The President has acknowledged that the real purpose of this action is to combat currency manipulation ­­– which does not pose a national security threat,” Toomey said in a written statement. “Furthermore, even if this action were legitimate, the statutory window for imposing these tariffs has closed.”

Toomey has pushed legislation that would give Congress more control over “national security” tariffs.

State fights food stamp cut

Gov. Tom Wolf pushed back last week against the Trump administration’s planned cuts to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — cuts that the government says would leave nearly 700,000 off the program.

Commonly called food stamps, the SNAP program provides monetary help for low-income people and families to buy necessities. A change planned for April is set to tighten employment rules, making it harder for unmarried people in high-unemployment areas to use the benefit.

“A work requirement is not an investment in programs that help people succeed in work and only perpetuates the demand for public assistance programs because it forces struggling people into a revolving door of low-paying, dead-end jobs,” Wolf said in a written statement Wednesday.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue told reporters the changes would restore the “dignity of work” for those using the benefits.

While state and local governments don’t have the resources to reverse the cuts, Wolf said state agencies are seeking to expand federal-state partnerships that train SNAP recipients for work.

“The Wolf Administration is also exploring opportunities to expand access to education, training and supportive services for single-parent families experiencing economic challenges” through the so-called Parent Pathways program, which aims to put single parents through post-secondary education.

Democratic governors like Wolf have repeatedly sparred with the Trump administration, with proposed and successful budget cuts sometimes adding pressure to state programs. Republican counterparts have worked with the administration to add work requirements for aid programs; one such effort, in Kentucky, was overturned by a federal judge earlier this year.

In other news:

You might have missed it, but the only Pennsylvania politician in the running for president dropped out last week.

Last Sunday, former congressman and U.S. Navy officer Joe Sestak ended a long-shot bid for the Democratic nomination. Having failed to rate in polls or attain a debate spot, Sestak thanked his supporters and wrapped up his run.

“Without the privilege of national press, it is unfair to ask others to husband their resolve and to sacrifice resources any longer,” he said.

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