WASHINGTON – A congressional appearance by the chief author of a Maine program aimed at cutting prescription drug prices was canceled on short notice just before she was scheduled to give testimony.
At congressional request, Chellie Pingree, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate running against Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, had been planning to offer her thoughts on the Maine Rx program before the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday, but was told on Tuesday she should not attend.
Pingree, who as state Senate majority leader crafted legislation two years ago to create the Maine Rx program, said House Republicans decided to cancel her appearance after realizing she is a Democratic candidate.
The Maine Rx program is now being used as a model in other states, but is being challenged by the pharmaceutical industry in a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I wanted to go to Washington to talk about ways to negotiate lower prices for families, as we started to do with Maine Rx,” Pingree said in a statement. “I’m deeply disappointed that my efforts to do so were tied up in Washington politics.”
A Republican spokesman for the committee said Tuesday evening that he was unaware of the cancellation.
Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., chairman of the Ways and Means health subcommittee, said he had invited Pingree to testify because of her expertise in lowering the cost of prescription drugs.
Although Republicans control all committee proceedings because they are in the majority party of the House, tradition allows for the minority party to invite a small number of witnesses to testify at hearings.
“Chellie Pingree has challenged the pharmaceutical industry head-on, which is exactly what we’ll have to do to get a meaningful prescription drug benefit for all seniors,” Stark said, agreeing with Pingree that Republicans canceled her testimony because of her Senate race. “She has testified nationwide on Maine’s efforts to provide prescription drug coverage for seniors and is widely recognized as an expert on the subject.”
Stark added it is not uncommon for incumbent lawmakers to testify before committees even when they are running for re-election.