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Democratic Groups Put Pressure on Kurt Schrader Ahead of Close Vote on Biden’s $3.5 Trillion Bill

Schrader’s recent vote against a bill to lower Medicare drug prices has allies worried.

Thirty Oregon organizations, businesses, and labor unions wrote an open letter to U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon’s 5th Congressional District on Thursday encouraging him to vote in favor of President Joe Biden’s $3.5 billion spending bill, which will face a House floor vote as soon as next week.

The signatory organizations represent hundreds of thousands of Oregonians across various issues, including child care, clean energy and water, and education, according to a press release from Family Forward.

Schrader, a Blue Dog Democrat and one of his caucus’s most moderate members, recently voted in committee against a part of the spending bill that would have allowed Medicare to negotiate the price of pharmaceutical drugs, lowering the cost for recipients. With “no” votes from Schrader and two other moderate Democrats, Reps. Scott Peters (Calif.) and Kathleen Rice (N.Y.), the proposal failed on a 29-29 final tally.

Schrader’s vote dismayed some supporters.

“Democrats intended to use savings from this proposed plan to pay for the expansion of Medicare to include coverage for vision and dental care,” Family Forward wrote.

The spending bill, called the Build Back Better Act, aims to “create jobs, cut taxes, and lower costs for working families—all paid for by making the tax code fairer and making the wealthiest and large corporations pay their fair share,” according to the White House website. This plan includes lowering health care, housing, and higher education costs as well as addressing the teacher shortage, and creating more clean energy jobs.

Schrader, up for reelection in 2022, risks alienating key Democratic interest groups if he votes against the measure. Recent polling shows that 75% of Oregonians support the Build Back Better Act, including 89% who support expanding Medicare coverage. With a small majority in both the House and the Senate, there is little room for passage if any Democrats vote no.

The Sept. 23 letter from all of Oregon’s largest labor groups, including the AFL-CIO or Oregon and public employee unions, as well as organizations such as Planned Parenthood, Oregon Food Bank, Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, and Imagine Black, expresses this sentiment.

“All of our families should be able to meet their basic needs, including food, health care, housing, child care, clean air and water, electricity, quality education, and transportation. Without investing in these essentials we risk a recovery that only reaches some of us, one that leaves far too many women and workers of color behind—perpetuating existing inequities instead of addressing them,” the letter reads. “We strongly encourage your support for the full Build Back Better Act and hope you will stand with Oregonians when the time comes to vote. We’re counting on you to not leave any of us behind.”

Schrader said in a statement that he hopes to help shape the bill into a form he can support.

“I appreciate hearing from all the constituents who have reached out to my office to make sure their voices are heard,” Schrader said. “I have been working hard to ensure the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passes in the House next week. I also support many of the investments made in the Build Back Better Act, but much of the legislation is still in flux, with few hard numbers or elements for members to review. I look forward to engaging in discussions with my colleagues on the policies and cost of the package as I work to deliver for Oregon’s 5th Congressional District.”