WASHINGTON — Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said at a roundtable Friday that Democrats were forced to narrow a key provision of the recently enacted Inflation Reduction Act because of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.
Manchin, touting the benefits of the new law for West Virginia at an event in his home state, alluded to his fellow centrist senator when lamenting that the drug pricing provisions weren't more aggressive. The landmark policy included in the legislation empowers Medicare for the first time to negotiate prices with the pharmaceutical industry.
On Medicare and prescription drugs, he said: "We could basically — competition — let them go out and negotiate, and we can save a lot of money to a lot of people and take the burden off."
“We had a senator from Arizona who basically didn’t let us go as far as we needed to go with our negotiations and made us wait two years," Manchin said in a video of the event that was viewed by NBC News. "Those type of things — I don’t question anybody, everyone’s responding to their own constituent base. But we did get something. And it’s the first time we made a positive move in that."
The law allows Medicare to negotiate the cost of 10 drugs in 2026, a number that is slated to rise gradually in the years after. Many Democrats wanted to begin earlier and give the government broader power to negotiate prices with the industry.
But during the development of the bill last year, Sinema, a crucial vote in the 50-50 Senate, joined a group of House Democratic centrists in seeking to rein in the scope of the provision, according to multiple sources familiar with the intra-party negotiations.
There are two Democratic senators from Arizona. But it was clear which one Manchin was referring to.
After a Twitter user posted Manchin’s comments, Sinema responded online, linking to her statement from Nov. 2, when she announced her support for an agreement on prescription drugs following months of conversations among Democrats. The unsigned statement from her office said Sinema "welcomes a new agreement on a historic, transformative Medicare drug negotiation plan that will reduce out-of-pocket costs for seniors" and save money.
A spokesperson for Manchin sought to walk back his comment later on Friday, telling NBC News: “Senator Manchin misspoke this morning about Senator Sinema’s involvement in negotiating the 2 year delay for drug pricing negotiations.”
The back-and-forth highlights the differences between the two Democratic centrists — both complicated their party's efforts to pass the sweeping package but in different ways. Sinema forced Democrats to rein in drug pricing and tax provisions, while Manchin compelled the party to slash a host of economic and safety net programs, including universal preschool and child care funding.
At the Friday roundtable, Manchin responded to his critics in both parties, including Democrats who said he killed the Build Back Better Act last year and Republicans who say he betrayed their trust by supporting the Inflation Reduction Act.
"I didn't kill anything, I just couldn't sell it. I couldn't go home and explain it. And I always said, 'If I can't explain it, I can't support it.' And I didn't think we could handle that piece of legislation. So on this one, I can," Manchin said. "Now they're saying, 'Oh, he betrayed us, and he's gone this way now.' OK, so I'm the villain. I can be the hero and the villain, all in a 24-hour period."
"Nobody in their right mind would go through what I have gone through — and my staff — for the last eight months, taking all the crap we've taken from everybody in the country, and come back and say, 'Boy, that felt so good, I want to do some more of that.'"