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Democrats get the health care fight they want with prescription drug bill

Democrats looking for a health care fight in 2020 have found a key marker with the House drug pricing bill. 

The House on Thursday passed the legislation on a largely party-line vote of 230-192. The measure, which would allow the government to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs, has already been declared “dead on arrival” in the Republican-controlled Senate. 

The White House said the bill would impose “price controls” and indicated President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden prepares to confront Putin Biden aims to bolster troubled Turkey ties in first Erdoğan meeting Senate investigation of insurrection falls short MORE would issue a veto if it gets to his desk. 

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But lowering drug prices polls consistently as one of the top issues for voters, and Democrats and progressive groups plan to spotlight Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: 'No intention' of abandoning Democrats' infrastructure goals Senate investigation of insurrection falls short Ocasio-Cortez: 'Old way of politics' influences Manchin's thinking MORE’s (D-Calif.) sweeping bill as the central piece to their health messaging in 2020.

Democrats took control of the House in 2018 by campaigning heavily on health care, and members want to repeat that success as they seek to keep control of the House and win the Senate in 2020.

“House Democrats campaigned on the pledge to bring down the skyrocketing prices of prescription drugs and level the playing field for American patients who are paying far more for their medicines than patients are charged in other countries. I’m very proud we delivered on that pledge,” House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerPelosi signals no further action against Omar Overnight Energy: EPA to reconsider Trump decision not to tighten soot standards | Interior proposes withdrawal of Trump rule that would allow drillers to pay less | EPA reverses Trump guidance it said weakened 'forever chemicals' regulations Progressives rally behind Omar while accusing her critics of bias MORE (D-Md.) said in a statement.

Vulnerable Democrats in swing districts can point to the legislation as keeping a long-held promise to let Medicare negotiate drug prices. Members can show they are focused on kitchen table issues despite the chaos over impeachment. 

The bill also gives moderate Democrats in Congress a chance to tout a health care issue that’s separate from the “Medicare for All” debate consuming the Democratic presidential primary.

“If a Democrat wins the White House and the party takes control of the Senate, a bill to allow the government to negotiate drug prices seems much more likely to pass than Medicare for All or even a public option,” said Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health care policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.  

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Pelosi spent months in talks with Trump to try to get him to support the bill. During the 2016 campaign, Trump famously broke with his party and said he supported letting the government negotiate drug prices.

“When it comes time to negotiate the cost of drugs, we are going to negotiate like crazy,” Trump said in New Hampshire in early 2016. 

The White House distanced itself from Pelosi’s bill and eventually came out against the legislation. Democrats think highlighting Trump’s lack of follow-through on negotiating drug prices for Medicare will be a strong line of attack.

Pelosi said her legislation “delivers on President Trump's promise to the American people.” 

“It’s exactly what President Trump promised on the campaign trail,” said Rep. Andy LevinAndrew (Andy) LevinDemocrats introduce bill allowing college athletes to organize Senate Democrats offer bill to scrap tax break for investment managers Overnight Energy: Update on Biden administration conservation goals | GOP sees opportunity to knock Biden amid rising gas prices | Push for nationwide electric vehicle charging stations MORE (D-Mich.).

No Democrats voted against the bill, after some last-minute modifications from Pelosi helped pave the way for progressive support. 

“It wasn’t an easy process for Democrats. It takes a long time to get the agreement of everyone in the caucus, get a [Congressional Budget Office] score. But it was a big step, and it shows what Democrats would do if they regained power, and that’s important,” said Topher Spiro, vice president for health policy at the liberal Center for American Progress.

Democratic groups are backing up their members with some much-needed monetary support.

The House Democratic leadership PAC launched $2.5 million in ads backing vulnerable House Democrats and touting their votes on the drug bill. It’s the biggest purchase of the 2020 election cycle and is aimed at helping 16 Democrats in districts that are under a constant barrage of GOP attacks. 

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also launched a five-figure digital campaign targeting vulnerable Republicans in swing districts. 

“Washington Republicans just voted to stand with big drug manufacturers and special interests over everyday people in communities across the country,” DCCC Chairwoman Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosTo reverse the teaching shortage in low-income communities, give educators incentive to stay Democrats confront difficult prospects for midterms Democrat Cheri Bustos to retire from Congress MORE (D-Ill.) said in a statement. 

The Democratic money is important, as Republicans groups are spending heavily to promote an alternative solution. 

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Immediately following Thursday’s vote, the conservative American Action Network (AAN) announced a $4 million ad campaign attacking the bill.

“Nancy Pelosi’s prescription drug bill is heartless, cruel, and Americans will pay for it with their lives. Her plan as passed today will set back the search for new cures and treatments to even the most debilitating and life-threatening diseases for generations,” AAN President Dan Conston said in a statement.

House Republicans, led by Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenLobbying world Give Republicans the climate credit they deserve Fox hires former GOP lawmaker Greg Walden as political consultant MORE (R-Ore.), introduced a competing but smaller proposal that also received a vote Thursday.

They argued Democrats hurt themselves by passing a partisan bill that won’t make it into law.