WASHINGTON — President Trump’s splashiest idea for lowering the cost of prescription drug prices was to force pharmaceutical companies to include the prices of their products in TV and other advertisements.
But when Capitol Hill had a chance Thursday to help him achieve that goal, lawmakers failed. And counterintuitively, it was House members in the president’s own party who ultimately nixed the provision. In fact, it was a Democrat, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, pushing the measure hardest.
The provision in question is an amendment from Durbin and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) that would give the Food and Drug Administration $1 million to help get the ball rolling on Trump’s advertising idea, which he first floated in May. The pair of lawmakers was hoping to include it in a major government funding bill expected to get a vote in the coming weeks.
Rumors began surfacing in Washington Thursday morning, ahead of a bicameral, bipartisan meeting about the spending bill, that the measure had been stripped out of the final package, despite clearing the Senate unanimously late last month.
In a tweet Thursday morning, Grassley called the move an “EMBARRASSING bow to BIG PHARMA at the expense of consumers.”
Hearing rumors my bipartisan Durbin/Grassley legis to make drug companies list prices on TV ads is out of spending bill It is EMBARRASSING to bow to BIG PHARMA at expense of consumers Policy is supported by Pres Trump+AARP+Dem&GOP Sens If we can agree why are lobbyists fighting?
— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) September 13, 2018
“Transparency in advertising is the very least Congress can do. Let’s put patients before pharma,” Durbin said.
Current and former congressional aides following the negotiations pointed fingers at House Republicans, as did Durbin and several other lawmakers at the meeting. None would name specific members who opposed the language, but aides allege the lawmakers stripped the provision when reconciling the separate funding bills passed by both the House and Senate.
Even Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who declined to say whether he had a hand in stripping the provision, acknowledged that some of his GOP colleagues opposed the measure.
But he also suggested the FDA might not need the extra funding to carry out the regulatory work.
“There’s some debate if they need the language at all. So, let’s see what happens,” Cole added.
He may be right. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar previously told lawmakers that he has the power to mandate these disclosures without congressional action, though it isn’t clear if the additional funding is necessary for that work.
Nonetheless, the amendment was a priority for the administration.
Durbin reminded lawmakers that Azar had personally called each member of the conference committee to make the case for the amendment.
Azar’s pleas evidendently didn’t have much impact on Cole, who didn’t remember the conversation. “I don’t recall having a discussion over this,” he said, “but I may well have.”