Democrats pushed legislation buttressing the 2010 health care law and curbing prescription drug prices toward House passage Thursday, advancing a bill that seems engineered with next year’s elections in mind and has no chance of surviving in the Senate or getting President Donald Trump’s signature.
The measure forces Republicans into the uncomfortable political position of casting a single vote on legislation that contained popular drug pricing restraints they support but measures strengthening President Barack Obama’s health care statute that they oppose. In the end, most Republicans seemed poised to vote against the overall package.
Much of the bill focused on reversing steps — largely backed by GOP lawmakers — that Trump has taken to weaken Obama’s law , a statute he has vowed to repeal ever since his presidential campaign. The measure would restore money Trump has cut to publicize the law and help patients enroll for its benefits, block Trump’s expansion of the availability of low-cost, low-coverage plans and help states set up their own online marketplaces where policies are sold.
Democrats view Obama’s law as one of their greatest recent achievements, and see efforts to strengthen it as perhaps their most effective issue going into next year’s presidential and congressional elections. They said Trump’s moves were part of his effort to erode the law, which has expanded coverage by about 20 million people.
“Here is the Democratic response,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, a member of the House Democratic leadership. “Keep your hands off of the health care of everyday Americans.”
Democrats said that by giving states more leeway to make low-price plans with skimpy coverage available, Trump was enabling the sale of policies that don’t cover people with pre-existing conditions. Democrats say a major factor in their takeover of the House in last November’s elections was their hammering of Republicans for making such patients vulnerable to losing coverage.
Republicans defended Trump’s moves, saying government funds that go to outside organizations to help them sign up people for coverage often produce scant results. They also Trump’s effort to increase the availability of low-price policies with bare bones coverage made sense because such policies are all some people can get.
“Is it what we want people to have? I would tell you no, it’s not,” said Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga. “But it’s sure better than nothing.”
GOP lawmakers also accused Democrats of purposely packaging the legislation to force Republicans to vote “no,” including against its constraints on rising prescription drug prices. The growing costs of medicine are a major public concern, and Republicans said Democrats were undermining steps to make drugs more affordable by putting them in a bill they knew was going nowhere.
“Shame on them,” Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., said of Democrats. “If there’s someone trying to sabotage the effort of lowering health care prices, it’s you.”
The legislation would make it illegal for brand-name drug manufacturers to pay producers of lower-cost generic drugs to keep their versions off the market. It would make it harder for generic producers to thwart rivals from selling their drugs, and make it easier for generic companies to get samples of brand-name drugs for testing.
The White House distributed a statement this week warning that Trump would veto the legislation if it reaches his desk. Since the measure won’t likely see the light of day in the Senate, Trump won’t have to bother, but the battle gave him a chance to state his views.
The letter said that while the legislation includes steps to control drug prices that Trump backs, it also has provisions “that would restrict access to health care coverage for many Americans and impede efforts to reduce inefficient spending on health care programs.”