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Pharma's Endgame

As top Democrats wrapped up a marathon meeting with Obama this evening, other signs of their endgame for the bill also began to emerge. CongressDaily’s Anna Edney reports that Democratic leaders are pushing Big Pharma for more than they originally settled upon in the Senate bill:

Congressional leaders are asking the pharmaceutical industry to cough up an additional $10 billion to help pay for the healthcare overhaul as they search for revenue to fund what will likely be a more expensive final bill than the one the Senate produced last month.

A decision on whether to help could come as early as the end of this week.

That money would be on top of the $80 billion cost-cutting deal that the industry had originally worked out with the White House and Senate Finance Committee, which was preserved in the Senate version of the bill. Liberal Senators who were otherwise quite supportive of the bill previously railed against the deal for being negotiated behind closed doors and for being too soft on the industry, but efforts to demand more from Pharma on the Senate floor (like Dorgan’s drug reimportation amendment) failed to make it in the bill.

Reid managed to placate some of those protestations by promising to go back to fill the Medicare Part D donut hole for prescription drug costs during the conference process. And though the details are still vague, that could be precisely what the Democrats are asking for with this deal. The Senate bill was about $8 billion short of closing the Medicare donut hole, and if Pharma accepts, they would be able to close the gap and have $2 billion left over to play with.

But even with $10 billion tacked on, the deal would only make up for a tiny fraction of the difference between the Senate and House bills. The House legislation demanded as much as $150 billion from the industry, so Pharma would be making out extraordinarily well if it accepted a $90 billion compromise. If this all plays out accordingly, liberals will surely be incensed that the leadership didn’t ask the industry to cough up far more in the end.