By Moira Warburton and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Democrats in the U.S. Senate are advancing a deal among themselves that would allow the Medicare health program for the elderly to negotiate lower prescription drug prices, Senate sources said on Wednesday.
The plan, which could potentially lower health costs for the U.S. government, has long been a goal of President Joe Biden's Democrats and is popular with voters. It has been held up by contentious intra-party negotiations on taxes, climate change and other elements of a proposed massive spending bill.
All 50 of the Senate's Democrats have now lined up behind the drug-pricing provision, said a spokesperson for conservative Democrat Joe Manchin, a senator often at odds with other members of his party.
"Senator Manchin has long advocated for proposals that would lower prescription drug costs for seniors and his support for this proposal has never been in question. He's glad that all 50 Democrats agree," spokesperson Sam Runyon said in a statement.
Another source familiar with the proposal, who asked not to be identified, said Senate Democrats were still working on provisions to tackle climate change and raise taxes.
While those negotiations continue, the Medicare portion was being submitted to the Senate parliamentarian to ensure it would comply with complex budget rules that would allow Democrats to bypass Republicans and pass it with a simple majority in the 100-seat chamber.
It was unclear whether legislation bundling the three initiatives would be complete this month, before the start of an August recess. Democrats hope to pass the legislation before the Nov. 8 midterm election, when Republicans could win control of one or both chambers of Congress.
Democrats reached agreement on the Medicare drug pricing last November. By advancing it to the Senate parliamentarian, Democrats may be signaling some optimism over a deal on the entire package. Manchin has had concerns over details of the other two components and has been in direct negotiations with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer for quite some time.
Last week, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell warned that he would block a sweeping bill to improve U.S. competitiveness with China if Democrats advanced the three-pronged prescription drug, climate change and tax package.
Schumer is sending the first prong to the parliamentarian in the hope that it will be found to comply with Senate rules.
The Medicare agreement leaves out significant provisions from the framework Democrats initially sought.
While it still would allow government-run Medicare to negotiate drug prices for the elderly, the negotiated prices would not apply to people with private health insurance, unlike the initial framework.
It would allow the government to negotiate the price of up to 20 drugs by 2028, rather than the 250 drugs allowed for in the initial plan.
Other weakened provisions include an inflation cap that does not reverse previous price hikes, something the old framework would have done.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Ahmed Aboulenein in Washington and Moira Warburton in Miami; editing by Andy Sullivan, Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller)