Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing

Conservatives are growing increasingly uneasy with the Trump administration’s new drug pricing policy.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFormer White Supremacist calls on Trump to stop using fear to motivate people Walmart employee urges workers to strike until the company’s stores stop selling guns Biden: Violent video games ‘not healthy’ but aren’t ‘in and of itself why we have this carnage’ MORE is desperately seeking an elusive political win in his efforts to lower prescription drug costs, but he faces a hard sell to conservative groups and GOP lawmakers as he touts ideas traditionally favored by Democrats and presidential candidate Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTown halls are not the answer, DNC must sanction an official climate debate Gravel endorses Bernie Sanders after suspending campaign De Blasio defends decision to appear on Fox’s Hannity: We shouldn’t stereotype ‘millions of Americans who are watching’ MORE (I-Vt.).

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In a rare break with Trump, conservatives are now pushing back against key administration policies, and accusing the president of supporting what they call Sanders-style socialism.

The president has embraced importing drugs from Canada, as well as an international pricing policy that would bar Medicare from paying more than other countries for prescription drugs.

The moves are designed to co-opt Democratic talking points, and position Trump as a populist champion of the free market.

Trump has made lowering drug prices a top priority of his presidency, but has suffered some high-profile setbacks in recent weeks.

Drug importation and the international pricing caps proposal are the only remaining policies remaining that the White House can use to make a splash heading into 2020.

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Trump has frequently railed against “global freeloading,” and said he doesn’t think it’s fair that the U.S. subsidizes research and development in other countries.

Last year he went to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and announced the plan to cap U.S. payments for expensive drugs, over the objections of some White House advisers.

Those objections later spread to include conservative groups.

Facebook ads this year from FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group, urged people to tell HHS Secretary Alex Azar to oppose “socialist-style price controls.”

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Another ad warned the administration against “importing socialist European drug prices in America.”

Separately, a website sponsored by the American Conservative Union rails against the administration’s pricing index, calling it an experiment “directly out of the Bernie Sanders and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonOcasio-Cortez calls out McConnell for photo of young men groping a cutout of her Trump: ‘We are watching Google very closely’ GOP super PAC drops new TV ad in contested NC House race MORE government health care takeover playbook.”

In the GOP-controlled Senate, a bill backed by the administration is facing Republican opposition over a provision that would impose a limit on drug price increases in Medicare’s Part D prescription drug program.

The legislation would force drug companies to pay money back to the government if their prices rise faster than inflation.

The Senate Finance Committee approved the measure late last month in a 19-9 vote — all Democrats voting for it and all nine “no” votes came from Republicans. Some GOP senators said they were concerned because they think the Medicare Part D provision violates traditional free-market principles.

The bill faces long odds of making it to the Senate floor without substantial changes.

“I’m not comfortable with putting price controls on drugs,” Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyNSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump’s ‘due process’ remark on guns MORE (R-Pa.), a member of the Finance Committee, told The Hill.

Toomey offered an amendment to strip out the provision, which failed on a tie vote of 14-14. All but two Republicans voted for his amendment.

Aside from capping drug payments, Trump has also softened his stance on importing drugs from Canada. The administration last week announced a proposal that would set the groundwork for states or wholesalers to launch pilot programs to safely import drugs.

Shipping in drugs from abroad has long been a goal of progressives like Sanders, but has also won the support of libertarian-leaning conservatives like GOP Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul to ‘limit’ August activities due to health Rand Paul pushed for Iranian diplomat to meet with Trump: report The 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal MORE (Ky.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzIncreased emissions in Texas are canceling out climate progress across the country Texas faces turbulent political moment CNN slams GOP for not appearing on network after mass shootings, conservatives fire back MORE (Texas) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Defense: US exits landmark arms control treaty with Russia | Pentagon vows to ‘fully pursue’ once-banned missiles | Ratcliffe out as intel pick | Trump signs budget deal that boosts defense | Trump defends North Korea’s Kim as ‘friend’ The 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal Senate passes sweeping budget deal, sending it to Trump MORE (Utah).

But with Trump looking for a win on drug pricing, political analysts and health experts argue he doesn’t necessarily care about gaining the support of conservatives.

“This is … the administration throwing down a wild card,” said health care consultant Alex Shekhdar, founder of Sycamore Creek Healthcare Advisors. “In order to win in 2020, they need to take into consideration independents and anyone else who thinks drug prices are an issue.”

Joe Antos, a health care expert at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said it doesn’t matter if the policies Trump is embracing are traditionally Democratic ones.

“Just because Democrats endorsed it in the past, doesn’t mean Trump can’t take ownership and call it his idea. He might not call them Republican ideas, but he’ll call them Donald Trump ideas,” Antos said.

But some GOP senators cautioned against letting Democrats play too much of a role.

After the Finance Committee advanced the drug-pricing bill, Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyFARA should apply to Confucius Institutes On The Money: Fed cuts rates for first time since financial crisis | Trump rips Fed after chief casts doubt on future cuts | Stocks slide | Senate kicks budget vote amid scramble for GOP support Overnight Health Care: Biden camp hits rivals on ‘Medicare for All’ ahead of debate | Trump officials offer plan to allow imports of cheaper drugs | Senate Dems to force vote on Trump ObamaCare change MORE (R-Iowa) told reporters that Republicans don’t want Trump negotiating with Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill’s Morning Report – Trump, Democrats at odds over shootings’ causes, cures McConnell taps GOP senators to mull bipartisan legislation after shootings Is Pelosi’s semantic nod an unimpeachable defense? MORE (D-Calif.).

A competing bill from House Democrats is far more sweeping than the Senate’s, and includes direct Medicare negotiation on drug prices. 

“It seems to me that the Grassley-Wyden approach is a very moderate approach to what could come out,” Grassley said, referring to the bill backed by him and Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenTrump casts uncertainty over top intelligence role On The Money: Trump to hit China with new tariffs next month | Stocks plummet on latest trade threat | Senate sends budget deal to Trump | Judge orders NY not to share Trump’s tax returns for now Top Democrat: ‘Disqualifying’ if Trump intel pick padded his résumé MORE (Ore.), the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee.

But a stalled bill could still work to Trump’s advantage, according to Antos, who said 

the president doesn’t necessarily need to lower drug prices, he just needs to convince the public he is trying. 

In that sense, Antos argued, Republicans haven’t offered anything better, and they will eventually support whatever the administration does.

“Republicans don’t have any alternative ideas,” Antos said. “Trump has full control of Republicans in Congress, so there’s just not going to be any response other than going along with what comes along.”

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