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Veteran Democrat’s win on prescription drug price controls will change the lives of millions of American seniors for the better

In the 50th Congressional District, which covers Hillcrest, the coast from Coronado to La Jolla, and North County areas including Rancho Santa Fe and Rancho Bernardo, incumbent Rep. Scott Peters is coming off the best term of his career. The La Jolla Democrat — a former San Diego City Council member first elected to the House in 2012 — has long been an effective lawmaker, working on veteran, military and life-science issues crucial to the region. But his stellar work in crafting a far-reaching bill that will bring down the cost of prescription drugs for tens of millions of Americans in coming years and decades ranks up there with the most impressive legislative achievements by any recent San Diego lawmaker.

Some progressives opposed Peters’ bill because it accepted the view that too-strict controls on prices would stifle development of new drugs by world-leading U.S. companies. But, countering arguments that this was a cover for corporate greed, a 2018 study by researchers at the Brookings Institution and USC found the U.S. did indeed bear the “global burden of medical innovation” — meaning residents of the nation most responsible for new drug development paid more for the resulting treatments than the rest of the world. Peters both bought this argument and grasped that any reform measure that didn’t address it would fall in the Senate. His alternative, included in the Inflation Reduction Act signed last month by President Joe Biden, also requires some Medicare drug-cost negotiations to begin in 2026 — and has the requirement that beginning in 2025, Medicare recipients won’t have to pay more than $2,000 a year in out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs. This will change many seniors’ lives. The Congressional Budget Office projects savings of nearly $300 billion in the first 10 years.

In a House committee vote in September 2021, Peters stood his ground even though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had called him and urged him to support a provision that would have enabled Medicare to push pharmaceutical companies much harder to lower drug costs. “I’m not going to pick every fight, but this is important for me and for my district,” Peters said at the time. The Wall Street Journal featured the exchange at the top of its story.

Bucking his party’s leadership on such a big issue shows Peters’ independence. The Journal wrote that it put him in “the crosshairs of an array of lawmakers and activist groups.” It also put him, eventually, in the winner’s circle when Biden signed the bill.

Because of his effectiveness and the fact that his district is more Democratic than ever, Peters seems likely to beat Republican business owner Corey Gustafson on Nov. 8. In two Q&As and an interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board, Gustafson made the case that Peters is part of a Washington culture that is far too comfortable with deficit spending. Gustafson also made smart points about how tax incentives and tax code changes could make homebuying easier. He accepts the need to respond to the climate emergency, but says that technology is more likely to limit the threat than a punishing makeover of the economy. He is better than some GOP candidates on the events of Jan. 6, 2021, in the sense that he doesn’t excuse them.

But on the key issue of reproductive rights, Peters is more attuned with San Diegans. He also has a far better grasp of the value of the binational San Diego-Tijuana culture and economy. In an interview, he noted that Chamber of Commerce CEO (and former Republican mayor) Jerry Sanders told him the most constructive thing he could do was making it easier to cross the border. When Peters says the border is “not a threat but an opportunity,” he couldn’t be more correct. Gustafson can’t compete with this vision for what the region can become.

The Union-Tribune Editorial Board endorses Scott Peters for the 50th Congressional District.