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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 HarrisSenate majority offers Biden new avenues on Trump environmental rollbacks Empire State Building lights on eve of Biden inauguration to honor COVID-19 victims READ: Harris letter resigning from Senate ahead of inauguration MORE (D-Calif.), Cory BookerCory BookerOfficials brace for second Trump impeachment trial Sunday shows - Capital locked down ahead of Biden's inauguration Booker: It would be 'constitutionally dangerous' not to conduct full Trump impeachment trial MORE (D-N.J.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden's minimum wage push faces uphill battle with GOP What to watch for in Biden Defense pick's confirmation hearing Biden selects Gensler for SEC chair, Rohit Chopra to lead CFPB 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 TrumpGiuliani used provisional ballot to vote in 2020 election, same method he disparaged in fighting to overturn results Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Fox News' DC managing editor Bill Sammon to retire MORE has put in the spotlight.

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They are also following in the footsteps of Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden pushing to cancel Keystone XL pipeline as soon as he takes office: reports Biden tax-hike proposals face bumpy road ahead Senate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster 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 MerkleyJeff MerkleySenate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster Biden and the new Congress must protect Americans from utility shutoffs Flags, signs and other items left behind in Capitol riot to be preserved as historical artifacts MORE (D-Ore.) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharGoogle completes Fitbit acquisition Hillicon Valley: Fringe social networks boosted after Capitol attack | Planned protests spark fears of violence in Trump's final days | Election security efforts likely to gain ground in Democrat-controlled Congress US Chamber of Commerce to stop supporting some lawmakers following the Capitol riots 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 BrownFacebook temporarily bans ads for weapons accessories following Capitol riots Biden and the new Congress must protect Americans from utility shutoffs Streamlining the process of prior authorization for medical and surgical procedures 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.