This was a vote on an amendment by Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) that would have allowed for the importation of pharmaceutical drugs from Canada. This amendment was offered to legislation that would provide annual funding in fiscal year 2012 for Agriculture, Transportation, and Commerce Department programs.
This drug importation amendment was supported by an unusual coalition of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans--and was also opposed by a bipartisan coalition.
Vitter urged support for his amendment: “The amendment is very simple. It would give all Americans another avenue to get safe, cheaper prescription drugs by allowing the reimportation of prescription drugs for personal use from Canada only. Again, it is very modest and very restricted. We are just talking about Canada. We are just talking about, of course, FDA-approved prescription drugs. We are just talking about small quantities for personal use, not big quantities, not wholesalers, not folks in that business….So it is a very modest, straightforward, limited amendment, but it would still be real in terms of the relief it would give Americans, particularly seniors, who are so often under the crunch--another opportunity for safe, cheaper prescription drugs….This problem, again, is real. It hits millions of Americans. It hits seniors particularly hard….Nexium. In the United States, it is about $635 for a certain amount. In Canada, that same volume of the drug is $386. For Lipitor, the price difference on average is $572 in the United States versus $378 in Canada…”
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) opposed Vitter’s amendment: “What I want our colleagues to know is where there is compelling, compassionate human need, there is greed. Where there is greed, there are scams, schemes, and in many cases they have lethal consequences. What the Vitter amendment does--first of all, it does not give the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] additional resources to combat counterfeit medicine, it just makes an allowable use….There are rogue Canadian pharmacy Web sites, and the consequence of that is we do not know what is coming. One of the things we do know is, we have examples of awful things that have happened. Do many of you remember when Coumadin came into this country? That is a blood thinner. It was illegally produced and did not meet FDA standards and resulted in people dying because they hemorrhaged out because of a counterfeit drug. They bled to death taking something they thought was safe….We do have to deal with the cost of prescription drugs. We did deal with it in subsequent legislation in which we have closed the doughnut hole. I compliment the Senator from Louisiana for wanting to do that and all who modified it. But do not make a good intention have a horrible, lethal, unintended consequence.”
The Senate rejected Vitter’s amendment by a vote of 45-55. 29 Democrats—including a majority of progressives—and 16 Republicans voted “yea.” 31 Republicans and 24 Democrats voted “nay.” As a result, the Senate rejected an amendment that would have allowed for the importation of pharmaceutical drugs from Canada.