Speaker Pelosi releases ambitious drug bill...only to have it immediately shot down by McConnell
I'm a bit late to the game on this due to being backlogged, but for the record (via Abby Goodnough of the NY Times):
Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday released her long-awaited plan to curb soaring prices of prescription drugs, a political chess move that could prod the Senate to move and heat up congressional negotiations with the White House on a popular but elusive goal.
Ms. Pelosi’s plan, which she was to lay out at a morning news conference, would allow the government to negotiate the price of as many as 250 name-brand drugs for Medicare beneficiaries — an idea that many Republicans hate but that President Trump embraced during his 2016 campaign. Drug companies would also have to offer the agreed-on prices to private insurers or face harsh penalties, which could give the package broader appeal with voters.
The hit to noncompliant companies would be even stiffer than the penalty in a draft of her plan that circulated last week. The penalty extracted from a company unwilling to comply would be equal to 65 percent of the previous year’s sales of the drug in question, but would gradually increase by 10 percentage points every quarter that the company refuses to offer the government’s price, to a maximum of 95 percent.
The bill’s main competition for now is a bipartisan but embattled drug-pricing package from the leaders of the Senate Finance Committee, Senators Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, and Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, who are lobbying fiercely to build support for it.
250 may not sound like a lot, but it's my understanding that the name-brand drugs in question account for something like 80% of all prescription medication sales nationally (I'm not sure if this is an exact correlation or not), so this would be a big deal if it happened.
The response from Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, is exactly what you'd imagine it to be (via Burgess Everett of Politico):
Senate Republicans are warning Speaker Nancy Pelosi that her much-anticipated drug pricing plan is dead and will not be considered in the Senate.
In an interview, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) ruled out any action on the bill, which would call for Medicare to negotiate drug prices for a minimum of 25 medicines and target drugs that cost the American health system the most. Pelosi rolled out the plan on Thursday to intense opposition from the drug industry, and McConnell.
(note: I've read conflicting details on the number of medications--it's either all 250 at once or 25 to start with another 25 added each year, I believe).
“Socialist price controls will do a lot of left-wing damage to the healthcare system. And of course we’re not going to be calling up a bill like that,” McConnell said on Thursday afternoon.
Senate committees have passed their own drug pricing legislation, though it does not unite the GOP. Many Republicans are slow to endorse wading into regulating the pharmaceutical industry, which has deep pockets and deep political connections in Washington.
President Donald Trump on Thursday called for a bipartisan solution to high drug prices, tweeting out that he likes “Sen. Grassley’s drug pricing bill very much, and it’s great to see Speaker Pelosi’s bill today. Let’s get it done in a bipartisan way!”
Through a spokesman, Pelosi ripped McConnell as an impediment to one of Trump's top priorities.
For whatever reason, "lowering prescription drug prices" has long been one of Trump's few "progressive" policy priorities...except, of course, that he also once claimed that he'd "make the government pay for it all" re. healthcare policy (i.e., "single payer"), so his stated "priorities" don't mean much on this front. Still, he's at least on record as claiming to be supportive of cutting drug pricing, so it's at least a cudgel Pelosi can use with McConnell, anyway.
And, as Max Nisen of Bloomberg Opinion notes, that might even be the point here:
Details of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s closely guarded drug-pricing plan are now out, and she’s not messing around.
...Pelosi’s plan could still change before it’s formally released, but it appears to be a dramatic shift left for her party, which previously might have been happy just giving Medicare the right to bargain over drug prices. It’s also a sharp contrast with the Senate’s mild bipartisan drug-cost effort, which doesn’t even touch on this point.
...The proposal is so aggressive in its current form that it has little chance in the Republican-controlled Senate. That doesn’t mean the pharmaceutical industry can breathe easy. The speaker is going big for a reason.
Pelosi’s plan is an effort to pressure the Senate and the Trump administration into more aggressive action, and to give Democrats a potent line of attack on an issue that resonates with voters. It just might succeed on both fronts; drug pricing is an area where Republicans are vulnerable.