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 PelosiTrump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Sherrod Brown backs new North American trade deal: 'This will be the first trade agreement I've ever voted for' Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Turf war derails push on surprise medical bills | Bill would tax e-cigarettes to pay for anti-vaping campaign | .5M ad blitz backs vulnerable Dems on drug prices 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 TrumpDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Trump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Seven years after Sandy Hook, the politics of guns has changed 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 GrassleyThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by AdvaMed — House panel delays impeachment vote until Friday The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Horowitz did not find evidence Obama asked for probe of Trump MORE (Iowa) and Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderTrump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Turf war derails push on surprise medical bills | Bill would tax e-cigarettes to pay for anti-vaping campaign | .5M ad blitz backs vulnerable Dems on drug prices Turf war derails bipartisan push on surprise medical bills 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 McConnellSherrod Brown backs new North American trade deal: 'This will be the first trade agreement I've ever voted for' McConnell: Bevin pardons 'completely inappropriate' House panel to hold hearing, vote on Trump's new NAFTA proposal MORE (R-Ky.) has not given his support to even a more modest drug-pricing measure from Grassley and Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by AdvaMed — House panel delays impeachment vote until Friday Senators zero in on shadowy court at center of IG report Trump administration approves Medicaid work requirements in South Carolina 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.