WASHINGTON — A coterie of the country’s most powerful and recognizable Democrats gathered Thursday to offer their early rebuttal to President Trump’s anticipated Friday address on drug prices.
As one lawmaker put it, the group was “hopeful, but … not optimistic” that Trump would deliver on his early promises to lower prescription drug prices. What they want to see, however, is far broader than anything that top Trump administration officials have hinted at ahead of Trump’s Friday speech.
“We heard President Trump’s rhetoric and we thought that was pretty good because the issue was so important. He talked the talk, but he has failed, at least so far, to walk the walk,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. “Prescription drug prices have been skyrocketing, and President Trump has barely lifted a finger to address the issue. … It’s outrageous, it hurts seniors, the infirm, and regular middle class families everyday, and we ought to do something about it.”
Schumer — joined by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, and six other lawmakers — pressed for progressive ideas like allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with drug makers and importing some drugs from other countries.
Trump, who supported those ideas on the campaign trail, has largely abandoned that rhetoric since taking office. His top lieutenants, like health secretary Alex Azar and FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, have opposed them.
Though there were some pleas for Trump to return to his past positions and work with Democrats, much of the 30-minute press conference was filled with potshots at the president and at drug makers themselves.
“Since 1998, big drug companies spent nearly $4 billion on lobbying and campaign contributions, employing some 1,400 well paid lobbyists. The other day we learned that Novartis, a major drug company, paid Donald Trump’s lawyer over a million dollars to gain access to the president,” Sanders said. “The pharmaceutical industry and their CEOs are doing phenomenally well. Unfortunately, for the people who need prescription drugs, often to literally stay alive or to ease their pain — those folks are not doing quite so well.”
Democrats also called for legislation that would require greater transparency from drug makers, and improvements to trade agreements that could make drugs more affordable. They also pushed for legislation to change the rules of the intellectual property system to mitigate the effects of some patent litigation tactics.
The other lawmakers present Thursday included Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Reps. Lloyd Doggett of Texas, Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, and Peter Welch of Vermont.
Democrats weren’t the only ones to offer their early opposition to Trump’s remarks. A spokeswoman for PhRMA, the trade group that represents most drug makers, sent around a series of the group’s recent statements on cost issues and research to support those points. They also highlighted an ad campaign, launched Wednesday, that aims to advance ways to improve both affordability and “predictability” in the Medicare program.