Credit: Jamelle Bouie-Flickr

Did Cory Booker and a bunch of other Democratic senators just vote against importing prescription drugs from Canada? No. No, they didn’t. Here is what they voted against:

SA 178. Ms. KLOBUCHAR (for herself and Mr. Sanders) submitted an amendment intended to be proposed by her to the concurrent resolution S. Con. Res. 3, setting forth the congressional budget for the United States Government for fiscal year 2017 and setting forth the appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal years 2018 through 2026; as follows:

At the end of title III, add the following:


The Chairman of the Committee on the Budget of the Senate may revise the allocations of a committee or committees, aggregates, and other appropriate levels in this resolution for one or more bills, joint resolutions, amendments, amendments between the Houses, motions, or conference reports relating to lowering prescription drug prices, including through the importation of safe and affordable prescription drugs from Canada by American pharmacists, wholesalers, and individuals with a valid prescription from a provider licensed to practice in the United States, by the amounts provided in such legislation for those purposes, provided that such legislation would not increase the deficit over either the period of the total of fiscal years 2017 through 2021 or the period of the total of fiscal years 2017 through 2026.

What they voted against was the above amendment to the Budget reconciliation bill. The Budget reconciliation bill is not a normal bill because it never becomes law. It never goes to the president for signature or veto. What it does is set out the framework for spending money that the committee chairs must work with when legislating and appropriating.

The Klobuchar/Sanders amendment would have given Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming, the chairman of the Budget Committee, the discretion to pass a bill on the importation of prescription drugs or other means of lowering the price for American consumers, even if that required him to adjust how monies were allocated to his subcommittees.

For starters, Sen. Enzi voted against giving himself this discretion, so he clearly had no intention of taking advantage of it. In truth, though, this amendment was just one of several amendments the Democrats introduced to cause political pain to the Republicans. None of them would have actually become law, but all of them could be used to attack anyone who voted against them.

To see how this was supposed to work, all you have to do is look at an article that was produced by the Center for American Progress yesterday. They highlighted “6 essential health benefits” the GOP had voted to take away during their Wednesday night/Thursday morning vote-a-rama. None of those health benefits included the Klobuchar/Sanders amendment on prescription drugs, but they were all poison pill/message amendments intended to embarrass and wound any senators who voted against them. One was on protecting people with pre-existing conditions, another was on letting young adults stay on their parents’ health plan until they’re twenty six, and another was on protecting children on Medicaid or CHIP. None of the amendments meant a damn thing. None of them had the least potential to change the law of the land. But they gave the Democrats the opportunity to blast the (mostly) Republicans who voted against them. The Center of American Progress article was the main instrument for that bludgeoning.

It’s decent politics, and good for the gander, but it’s all show.

The Republicans who voted for these things were just avoiding needlessly wounding themselves. The same is true for the Democrats who voted against them.

What does it mean that Cory Booker voted against this meaningless prescription drug amendment? What does it mean that Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico voted against it? What does it mean that Senator Ted Cruz voted for it?

It means approximately nothing.

But if you’re playing along, you ought to know that the intention of the amendments was never to do anything but to slap around Republicans. If you’ve decided that you need to wage a preventive war against Cory Booker’s 2020 presidential aspirations by killing him over this vote, then you’re waging your own ideological war and way off message.

It’s easy to see why you might have been taken in by this when you look at headlines that say “For Some Reason, Cory Booker and 12 Other Dems Helped Kill a Bill That Would Lower Drug Prices.”

But that headline should be considered Fake News.

It wasn’t really a bill by any ordinary understanding of that term because it could never be signed into law. Passage of the amendment would have given chairman Enzi discretion he never would have used, which means that the bill would not have lowered drug prices.

So, why did John McCain and Rand Paul vote for it and Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray vote against it?

Personally, I don’t really care. It meant nothing. But, as with most things, these politicians voted in the way they thought would be most beneficial to their careers. If you want to try to read the tea leaves on that, be my guest. But the idea was to slap Republicans, not Democrats.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at