2020 Dems go on offense over drug prices

Potential 2020 Democratic presidential contenders are rolling out a slew of plans to lower prescription drug prices, highlighting the importance the issue will hold in the coming campaigns.

Just in the past two weeks, Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s attorney general pick passes first test Sanders to meet with staffers as he does damage control Brown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration MORE (D-Calif.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerGillibrand and Booker play 'How Well Do You Know Your Co-Worker' game amid 2020 speculation The Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s attorney general pick passes first test 5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony MORE (D-N.J.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenMoveOn leaders stepping down before 2020 election Julián Castro calls for ‘tuition-free’ public colleges, apprenticeships Native American leader asks when US will come to its ‘senses’ after Trump’s ‘racist’ attack against Warren MORE (D-Mass.) have unveiled new drug pricing plans.

Democrats see lowering drug prices as a way to harness populist anger at pharmaceutical companies and reclaim an issue that President TrumpDonald John TrumpPentagon update to missile defense doctrine will explore space-base technologies, lasers to counter threats Giuliani: 'I never said there was no collusion' between the Trump campaign and Russia Former congressmen, RNC members appointed to Trump administration roles MORE has put in the spotlight.

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They are also following in the footsteps of Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersTexas man indicted over allegations he created fraudulent campaign PACs Overnight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans Dems offer measure to raise minimum wage to per hour MORE (I-Vt.), who made railing against drug companies a central part of his 2016 presidential bid and has continued to hammer away on the issue.

“The greed of the prescription drug industry is literally killing Americans and it has got to stop,” Sanders said last month as he unveiled another bill targeting drug prices.

Potential candidates are also unveiling their drug price initiatives as the jockeying ahead of 2020 intensifies.

Harris this month joined with Sens. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleySenate Democrats hold talkathon to protest partial shutdown Democrats plan to jam up Senate over shutdown fight Press: White House not only for white males MORE (D-Ore.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean Klobuchar5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony Klobuchar dismisses mock campaign logo as something from 'very enthusiastic supporter' Grandson's note to Barr during confirmation hearing goes viral MORE (D-Minn.), also floated as possible 2020 contenders, to introduce a bill allowing the Department of Health and Human Services to review and reject drug price increases that it deems unreasonable.

Warren this month introduced a bill to let the government manufacture certain drugs and sell them at lower prices if there is not enough competition.

Booker recently introduced a bill to increase transparency requirements around drug company payments to people with influence over deciding which drugs Medicaid covers.

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And Sanders last month unveiled a bill to strip monopolies from drug companies if their prices are deemed excessive.

Democrats see the issue as a political winner for their side.

“There was a lot of content about drug prices in Democratic congressional ads [in 2018],” Democratic strategist Brad Bannon told The Hill. “And it worked well so it’s going to get repeated in 2020.”

He said lowering drug prices appeals to both the “Obama coalition” of young people and minorities, as well as the white working-class voters that Democrats need to win back from Trump.

Trump's own focus on drug prices also provides an incentive to Democrats to try and take back the issue and deny the president a win.

Trump famously said last year that drug companies are “getting away with murder.”

During the 2016 campaign, Trump broke with the traditional Republican position and supported ideas such as allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

He has since backed off that idea but has put forward other proposals outside of GOP orthodoxy, including a bid to cut Medicare drug prices by tying them to lower prices in other countries.

“Democrats feel the need to one-up Trump,” Bannon said.

Trump announced his plan to tie Medicare drug prices to those in other countries in October.

Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownCentrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter The Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s attorney general pick passes first test Brown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration MORE (D-Ohio), another possible Democratic presidential candidate, called the move “a good step,” but also attacked Trump for not going far enough.

“We need to do a lot, lot more,” Brown told CNBC. “But fundamentally, the White House looks like a retreat for drug company executives.”

Polls show that the issue is resonating with voters.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll earlier this year found that 52 percent of respondents said lowering drug prices should be a “top priority.” And 72 percent said drug companies have too much influence in Washington.

“Any elected official or consultant worth their salt can tell you this outpolls infrastructure, the wall, tax breaks,” said Ben Wakana, executive director of the advocacy group Patients for Affordable Drugs citing issues important to the president.

“It is bipartisan, you can pull people from the left right and center,” Wakana added.

As potential candidates look to stake their position on the issue they also face some dangers, including from their own side.

Booker last year took heat from the left for voting against an amendment to allow the importation of cheaper drugs from abroad, with progressive critics accusing him of being too soft on drug companies.

“Cory Booker And A Bunch Of Democrats Prove Trump Right On Big Pharma,” read a headline in the HuffPost.

RoseAnn Demoro, executive director of National Nurses United, a group that supported Sanders in 2016, told the HuffPost that Booker and other Democrats who voted "no" on that bill were doing the bidding of drug companies.

“They’re basically letting their masters know they’re in line,” she said.

For his part, Booker said he supports drug importation but voted "no" because the measure did not have high enough safety standards.

The next month, in February 2017, Booker co-sponsored a revised version of the bill with Sanders.

“Life-saving medications will only save lives if people can afford them,” Booker said introducing the new bill.