Impeachment push threatens to derail bipartisan efforts on health care costs


Bipartisan efforts to lower drug prices and health care costs were thrown a curve ball this week when Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

While Trump has long viewed drug prices and so-called surprise medical bills as some of the few areas where Democrats and Republicans can work together, lawmakers say the impeachment push could very well change all that.

{mosads}Republicans in Congress, many of whom have been involved in bipartisan health care talks, are skeptical that there will be room for bipartisanship going forward as House Democrats pursue their impeachment probe.

“I worry because impeachment makes a toxic environment more toxic,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (Texas), the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, which is drafting legislation to help fix surprise medical bills.

“It can poison a lot of good work that is being done in a number of areas like surprise medical bills and lowering health care costs,” he said.

Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate have been involved in legislation aimed at reducing drug prices and ending the surprise medical bills some patients get from health care providers.

The White House has pushed Congress to act on both issues, with Pelosi introducing a comprehensive drug pricing bill last week. Another proposal, sponsored by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), was recently approved by the Senate Finance Committee.

Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Committee recently advanced surprise billing legislation while other committees continue to draft their measures. And the Senate Health Committee passed a measure in June that would address both high drug prices and surprise billing.

Differences between the two parties over some details of the bills already pose some challenges to final passage, but an impeachment inquiry could make those obstacles insurmountable.

“I think there is more oxygen on impeachment than there is on legislation,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a close Trump ally. “My Democratic colleagues have put everything on hold to try to make sure that this president is not the one that signs any proposed bills. So it makes it extremely tough.”

Drug pricing legislation in particular faced some roadblocks before the impeachment inquiry was launched.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is unlikely to call a vote on the Grassley-Wyden bill because it is opposed by many Republicans and outside conservative groups.

The measure would impose a new limit on price increases in Medicare’s prescription drug program, called Part D, forcing drug companies to pay money back if prices rise above inflation.

Pelosi’s bill, which could be voted on as soon as October, would require the government to negotiate the prices of some drugs. It will likely pass the House with Democratic support, but it’s unlikely to get a vote in the Senate, where it is opposed by the Republican majority.

Last week, Trump praised Pelosi for releasing her drug plan. He also endorsed the Grassley-Wyden bill, tweeting, “Let’s get it done in a bipartisan way!”

But by Wednesday, he was sounding a different note on Pelosi.

“She’s been taken over by the radical left,” he told reporters. “Unfortunately she’s no longer the Speaker of the House.”

Democrats have “destroyed any chances of legislative progress” by focusing on impeachment, the White House said in a statement Tuesday night. 

“The President will continue to aggressively push his agenda,” a White House official said Wednesday when asked about drug pricing. “We’ll see where the Speaker and Democrats place their priorities.”

The message coming from Pelosi and House Democrats is they still plan to plow ahead with drug pricing legislation and other policy priorities.

Democrats largely won back the House majority in 2018 because of their promises to address health care costs, and they want to show the public they have no plans to abandon that, even in the face of an impeachment inquiry. 

The launch of a formal impeachment inquiry didn’t change the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s plans Wednesday to hold a hearing on Pelosi’s drug pricing bill.

Pelosi also held a meeting with members Wednesday on her proposal, saying, “I certainly hope” Trump will continue working with Democrats on the issue.

“The president has claimed he wants to get [drug pricing] done, and so we look forward to being able to have a discussion about our bill and finding common ground on this issue on behalf of everyday Americans,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday.

He noted that former Presidents Nixon and Clinton continued working with Congress on their agendas when impeachment proceedings loomed.

“The same thing should happen this time around,” Jeffries said.

Tags Chuck Grassley Donald Trump Hakeem Jeffries Health care costs Impeachment Kevin Brady Mark Meadows Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi prescription drug prices Ron Wyden Surprise Medical Bills
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