Pelosi aide hopeful White House will support drug-pricing bill despite criticism

Pelosi aide hopeful White House will support drug-pricing bill despite criticism

A top aide to Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats offer mixed reactions to Trump's Mideast peace plan James Taylor to perform at awards ceremony for Ruth Bader Ginsburg this week Trump offers two-state peace plan for Israeli-Palestinian conflict amid skepticism MORE (D-Calif.) said that he thinks the Trump administration will eventually support a sweeping Democratic bill to lower drug prices, despite recent criticism from the White House. 

“I still think at the end of the day we are going to get administration support, despite some recent comments they have made,” Wendell Primus said last Friday at the University of Wisconsin. 

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Primus also said he thinks the White House’s attitude toward Pelosi’s drug-pricing bill might soften once the impeachment process is over. 

“I also think when the I-word, the impeachment stuff, is completely behind us, whatever it turns out to be, that will also change the administration's opinion of some of this,” Primus said. 

Primus’s hopeful comments come despite recent attacks from the White House. White House adviser Joe Grogan said earlier on Friday that Pelosi’s bill was “hyperpartisan” and “unworkable.”

Grogan also told Politico late last month that he had told Pelosi’s office that it might be time to abandon the bill and focus on a Senate effort instead. 

Primus and Grogan have been leading talks for months between Pelosi’s office and the White House, negotiations that faced an uphill climb given the bitter divide between President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Don Lemon explains handling of segment after Trump criticism NPR reporter after Pompeo clash: Journalists don't interview government officials to score 'political points' Lawyer says Parnas can't attend Senate trial due to ankle bracelet MORE and Pelosi. 

But in recent weeks, the White House has backed off the bill further, criticizing it publicly for the first time. 

Primus said he has stressed to the White House that Pelosi’s bill, which would allow the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to negotiate lower prices for up to 250 drugs per year, matches promises Trump made on the campaign trail in 2016 to support negotiation. 

“I've made this argument to the White House many times, that this bill completely matches Trump's promises,” Primus said. 

Asked about Primus's comments, White House spokesman Judd Deere on Wednesday made clear the administration favors the rival approach in the Senate.

"The White House has been clear that any bill to lower drug prices must achieve the President’s priorities and be bipartisan," he said. "Grassley-Wyden is a genuine bipartisan agreement that the Administration continues to work with Senators to further improve and move forward."

Congressional Republicans have been even more critical of Pelosi's measure, denouncing it as “socialist” and saying it would hinder the development of new drugs. 

Despite these strong statements of opposition, Primus on Friday still expressed hope that the bill could get through the Senate after negotiations with GOP Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Energy: Democrats unveil draft climate bill | Plan aims for carbon neutrality by 2050 | GOP senators press IRS on electric vehicle tax credit GOP senator: John Bolton should go public with what he knows GOP senators press IRS on enforcement of electric vehicle tax credit MORE (Iowa) and Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderGOP confident of win on witnesses Republicans signal renewed confidence they'll avoid witness fight The Hill's Morning Report - Bolton charge ups ante in witness showdown MORE (Tenn.). 

He said packaging the drug-pricing bill with expiring health programs like community health center funding could sweeten the deal for Republicans. 

“The House is going to pass this, sometime in December, and then we'd like to go to negotiate with Mr. Grassley and Mr. Alexander, etc.,” Primus said. “Putting this bill with extenders, community health centers, doing something for hospitals, there's a lot of goodies, again improving the Medicare program, so that even Mr. McConnell can't say ‘no’ when we're done with that House-Senate negotiation. That's the vision, we'll see.”

Most other observers have a much more negative outlook for Pelosi’s drug-pricing bill, which is widely expected to die in the Senate due to Republican opposition. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump allies throw jabs at Bolton over book's claims GOP confident of win on witnesses Collins Senate bid threatens to spark GOP rift in Georgia MORE (R-Ky.) has not given his support to even a more modest drug-pricing measure from Grassley and Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenTax season could bring more refund confusion Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Wyden asks NSA to investigate White House cybersecurity | Commerce withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon objects | Warren calls on Brazil to drop Greenwald charges Wyden vows push to force release of Khashoggi assessment MORE (D-Ore.).  

While the House is expected to pass the bill next month, it still faces a bumpy road in that chamber due to objections from progressive House Democrats that the measure does not go far enough. Progressives have for months pushed for raising the minimum number of drugs to be negotiated up from 25, for example, winning a small change up to 35 drugs, but still pushing for more. 

Primus acknowledged that progressives are not happy with him, but said he did not want the measure moving further left, saying then it would be perceived as “price controls.” He also raised concerns about the capacity of HHS to negotiate on more drugs. 

“Right now, my sense of this is we have this bill centered correctly,” Primus said. “The bill cannot move to the left. We've had some uber-grassroots organizations like Social Security Works, Public Citizen saying why don't you negotiate on all drugs? Well, you can't negotiate on all drugs, then it's clearly price setting.”

“And to the moderates, we have to defend this innovation argument,” he added, referring to the argument that the bill would harm development of new drugs. “I don't think we can move the bill to the right or the left.”

Primus said it was “hard to defend” negotiating for only a minimum of 25 drugs, saying it does not make sense to the average lawmaker, but said he thought practical constraints about HHS’s capacity would make it impossible to negotiate for all drugs.   

“It's been very difficult, we've got pharma on the one hand, and the uber-left on the other hand,” he said.