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Senator Bill Cassidy On Changing The Senate Rules For Confirmation And Rising Drug Prices

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Senator Bill Cassidy joined me this morning:




HH: Senator Bill Cassidy is also Dr. Bill Cassidy. Good to have you on this morning, Senator, thanks for returning to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

BC: Hugh, thank you for allowing me to return. Man, it’s a privilege.

HH: Well, you were really screwed, you and Saints fans two weeks ago, and I as a Browns fan, I have been on the receiving end of terrible NFL calls. But if I was a season ticket holder at the Saints, I’d be suing the NFL.

BC: So some did, but by the way, like I think as one headline has said, Saints fans, think you have it bad? Imagine what the Browns are like.

HH: Stop that. Now we’ve been getting along fine. We’re going to be in the Super Bowl next year. Now Senator, let me turn to the first matter, which is procedural. I had Tom Cotton on earlier. Do you agree that the Senate will move to change the rules governing the time allocated to debate nominations both pre and post cloture within two weeks?

BC: I don’t know if it’s within two weeks, but I think we shall.

HH: And he said there is unanimity in the caucus to do so. Do you agree with his assessment?

BC: You know, I haven’t done a whip count, but there is a strong recognition that the minority party has manipulated current rules not for any other purpose but to delay, not delay to debate, but just to delay. And so I do think there’ll be strong push to do this.

HH: Now Roy Blunt said yesterday is might take two months. That will drive me and the base crazy. I think that we were expecting it this week, but Cotton said we need to tee up a nomination first. Is that what’s going on? We’re waiting for a nomination?

BC: There’s going to be some process involved, and there’s going to be some, I don’t know if we have unanimity. I don’t know if we have 51 votes to do this. But so I suspect it’ll take a canvasing of everybody to see where they are on this. So I can’t say whether it’s the whip count or whether it’s the process, but I do think there’s a sense that this is going to happen, because frankly, it’s hurting the Senate. It’s hurting the institution of the Senate. And if you care about the way our founding fathers set things up and what they imagined would be done in the Senate, then it’s something that should occur.

HH; It’s also hurting the 2020 Republicans who have to stand for reelection, because the people that support returning incumbents are the people that look at the Senate and expect it to act on something that is this obviously disingenuous by the Democrats. And so is that understood within the caucus?

BC: I suppose, but you can argue that we’ve already done so in the sense that we now only need 51 votes to get a Supreme Court nominee on the bench. And that’s a good thing. And that was done by the group of guys and gals who are up this coming thing. And we’ve also appointed a record number of judges both to the Circuit Courts as well as district courts. So I think there’s a decent track record to defend our…

HH: Oh, there is. Two Supreme Court justices, 30 Appeals Court justices. I think Mitch McConnell saved the Constitution. But the question is always what have you done for me lately. And right now…

BC: You sound like my daughter.

HH: Lately, yeah, lately it’s 12 Circuit Court nominees stuck, and people are impatient. Let me turn, then, to Venezuela before I turn to the Finance Committee. In Venezuela, there is a report from Reuters this morning that Maduro’s thugs have murdered 40 people. Do you want the United States to use military action?

BC: I don’t think, I think it would be counterproductive for the United States to use military action, but I do think that there is a recognition among Venezuela’s neighbors the situation is intolerable. Three million Venezuelans have fled Venezuela to surrounding countries burdening those countries. So I suspect that there is a strong move by its neighbors to address the issue.

HH: By address the issue, do you mean that Colombia and Brazil under Duque in Colombia and Bolsonaro in Brazil might use their militaries to bring order to Venezuela and then withdraw quickly?

BC: I think there might be some way to subvert the Maduro regime. I don’t know if it’s going to be military force, per se, but I suspect there is some way to do so. And they are being swamped by Venezuelans fleeing, and it’s only going to get worse. And so I think they are going to be proactive. And I’m sure we’ll support them being proactive.

HH: Now Dr. Cassidy, one of my sponsors is Citizens For Truth in Drug Pricing. And I accepted them as a sponsor, because I hate big Pharma. I think big Pharma manipulates the rules, and that they own too much of the conversation. But today or tomorrow in the Finance Committee, of which you are a member, there’s going to be hearing by Chuck Grassley chairing it, and I’ve asked him to come on the show to talk about it, maybe give us a preview. What are you guys doing, and gals doing, about skyrocketing prescription drug prices?

BC: Yeah, so this hearing is going to be the first of it. There’s going to be a variety of things pursued. I’ve got like six or seven bills that we have teed up. Some of it’s going to be transparent. If a drug company has a generic drug, it should be very cheap. But the delivery mechanism, think injection mechanism, is tweaked every couple of years, just tweaked just to keep others from being able to market a competitor. That’s going to stop. The FDA is looking at that, but there will be legislation introduced as well. To your point, there are people who are manipulating the rules so that their product never has competition. Hey, we’re based on competition in our society. You shouldn’t be able to overcharge rules.

HH: So do you think the inflation overall in the drug sector is a response to demand? Or is it a response to manipulation, because frankly, I don’t think it’s a demand-sensitive market. It’s not as though more people are getting diabetes than ever before, although a lot of people have diabetes. It’s not a demand for a supply that is shortened. Something must be manipulated here, because the supply and demand is not at work here.

BC: No, it is rules. It is rules that have been set up to encourage innovation that are being used by companies who are not being innovative. Now some are incredibly innovative. But others are taking two medicines that you can buy over the counter, and spend $40 bucks a month for, combining them and selling that same combined generic medication for $2,400 dollars a month. Let me say that again. You can buy it for $40 bucks over the counter, but it’s being sold under prescription for $2,400 dollars a month. That’s not innovation. That is exploiting loopholes, and that should be changed.

HH: That’s astonishing. And who is testifying before this? And are you going to grind on them?

BC: So no one has tesitifed on that particular issue, but there is, for example, a fellow from New York who works for Sloan Kettering. He and I have actually collaborated how can we lower high cost, the cost of high cost drugs through a program like Medicaid, or through a prison system. He’s going to be testifying. There’s Douglas Holtz-Eakin, whom I’m sure you’re familiar with.

HH: Yes.

BC: Free marketeer who’s going to respect the need to preserve incentives, but at the same time is all about markets. He’ll be another person testifying. I forget who the Democratic witness is, but you know, it’s going to be a nice panel.

HH: And now, Senator Cassidy, a couple of your colleagues, pretty soon I think it’s going to be everyone on the Democratic side, are running for president. But Senator Harris has got a good jump from the line. She’s ahead in the spring, ahead of Elizabeth Warren, ahead of everyone, in my opinion. Last night, she said Medicare for all, or Medicare for none. She wants Medicare for everyone. Your response?

BC: Yeah, Medicare for all is Medicare for none. It’s a program going bankrupt in seven years. Think about it. Medicare Trust Fund bankrupts seven years. She wishes that on 150 million people. And by the way, generally accepted, you’d have to double taxes in individuals, you’d have to double taxes on corporations, cut reimbursement to providers by 40%, and you still wouldn’t pay for it. So that’s just a pipe dream, that there is no business plan to support being used to rally their base.

HH: Well, but do you believe that rallying the base will eventually oblige the country to move to single payer, which is a disaster, but nevertheless seems to have somehow seduced the millennials, if nobody else?

BC: So the millennials have the most to lose, because they’ll be the ones paying through the nose for everybody else when the program is bankrupt. And by the way, those who are happy with their employer-sponsored insurance will lose their employer-sponsored insurance. But I think what it does say is that Republicans need to have an alternative. We don’t like Obamacare. We don’t like Medicare for all, so what are we for? We should be for market-oriented solutions which give the patient the power, give the patient the power of knowing the price, give the patient the power of transparency on things like these rules that drug companies are using to arbitrage and increase the price, etc. It we give the patient the power, Republicans will win.

HH: Now Senator Cassidy, I have a column at today that extols the virtues of going big on the border security and immigration reform front. You’ve got a gang of 17 getting together. You’re actually a doer, a legislator. I think they could fix a lot of problems if they simply opened up their horizon to look at the 10 million undocumented, and the 700-1,000 miles of border that needs a long, strong, double-layered fence. If they looked at e-Verify, if they looked at ending chain migration, is a big deal possible in the next three weeks?

BC: I don’t know if it’s so. It would have to probably go back to what has been previously proposed. Bob Gates, by the way, former CIA director and Defense secretary under both Bush and Obama, recommended the same thing. It may be a little bit quick to get political will ginned up for that. But we have to have a solution. I’m going to be proposing something, introducing legislation on something I proposed, which is if we don’t go big, at least we can pay using drug money confiscated from cartels. In that case, it wouldn’t be the taxpayer, or it wouldn’t be the Mexican government. It would be the Mexican cartels. And I think that would be poetic justice.

HH: That would, but I want to go back to the going big, because I read the Gates’ piece, and I’ve written twice about this. The Homestead Act was four pages long. It settled a third of the country, 1.6 million farmers on land, and Lincoln wrote it in about four pages. This does not have to be one of those. What kills immigration is when you guys try and solve everything. If you put down a few big things like mandating e-Verify and where the fence will go, and then 10 million people get regularized, it gets done.

BC: That could be, but what you just described is also going to be the temporary protected status. The President has already introduced that concept. There is going to be chain migration. And if you allow the DACA kids to have citizenship, what about their parents and what about their siblings in other countries? So you can see how the complexity of it just begins to spill out. Now by the way, if we can solve this by going big, I’m for going big. But it will be a little bit more involved than under current law than we might otherwise hope.

HH: And are you an optimist that something, if not going big, something will come out of this committee of 17?

BC: I’m very optimistic that something will happen to resolve this. No one wants the government to shut down again. You know, the general critique is that Pelosi won Round 1. Well, unfortunately, winning Round 1 means that we don’t secure the southern border. And we need to secure that border. And it’s going to be a process, so we need to engage in the process.

HH: You know, I think that was premature, Senator. I pointed out on Meet the Press this weekend, Ali and Frazier fought 41 of 42 scheduled rounds. Frazier won the first fight, lost the second two. It’s not a one-round battle on this.

BC: I’m totally with you. When I say first round, I don’t mean the whole thing. So I do think, though, that the next step, and by the way, I’ve made the same point. It’s too soon to judge. Let’s just, maybe, a year from now or two years from now. But on the other hand, I do think that shutting the government did not work well, that we need to keep it open, but we need to secure that southern border. I’m optimistic that somehow, that will happen.

HH: Thank you, Senator. Please go back to the caucus and tell them it’s urgent to change those rules and get those judges through, and people like Cully Stimson who have been held up forever over at DOD, and people in Treasury, I’m sure, you cover in Finance. Thank you for being with me. Bill Cassidy is always a great pleasure to talk to him, Dr. Bill, we call him here.

End of interview.


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