Top Democrats accuse Trump of ditching a key campaign promise on drug prices

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump announces a sweeping plan aiming to reduce drug prices.
  • However, it does not include his campaign proposal to allow direct negotiations between the government and drugmakers for lower Medicare drug prices.
  • Top Democrats like Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders accuse the president of abandoning his campaign promise.
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) (L) and Senate Minority Whip Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL).
Getty Images

Shortly before he took office last year, President Donald Trump accused the pharmaceutical industry of "getting away with murder." As a candidate in 2016, he backed the idea of the government negotiating directly with drugmakers to lower Medicare drug prices.

The proposal, which broke with most Republicans, became one of Trump's most popular plans among Democrats in Congress. But when the president unveiled a sweeping platform Friday to reduce drug prices, it appeared not to include the Medicare negotiation plan.

During his remarks Friday, Trump said he wanted to develop "new tools to negotiate for lower prices" in Medicare Part D plans. The government wants to develop "incentives" to encourage companies to keep prices low, he said.

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However, he did not specifically call for the direct price negotiation he described on the campaign trail.

Democrats, ahead of Trump's speech and after it, slammed the president for what they called abandoning a key campaign promise. The theme will likely play heavily in Democratic midterm messaging, as the party tries to gain seats in Congress partly by arguing the GOP has not done enough to help American consumers.

Amid Trump's remarks Friday, veteran Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said the president "is abandoning his promise" to allow direct negotiation to lower drug prices. He and his Democratic colleagues are also arguing the president's pledge to keep pharmaceutical companies in check rings hollow because the businesses received a massive tax benefit under the GOP tax overhaul passed in December.

Cummings: Very expensive champagne will be popping in drug company boardrooms across the country tonight. The #GOPTaxScam gave away billions to drug companies. Now President Trump is abandoning his promise to authorize Medicare to negotiate directly w/drug companies to lower prices.

As news emerged Thursday that Trump may not push for direct negotiations, Democrats accused him of abandoning his campaign priorities. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said candidate Trump "spoke like a populist who wanted to work in a bipartisan way."

"He talked the talk, but he has failed, at least so far, to walk the walk," the New York Democrat told reporters.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats and a leading voice on the left, said if Trump is "serious about lowering drug prices," he would take action such as telling "the Republican leadership to support the Medicare price negotiation act." Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the chamber's second-ranking Democrat, argued earlier Friday that Trump is "breaking his promise" to bring down drug prices.

A White House official responded to the Democratic criticism by arguing the party's platform to reduce drug prices would hurt competition and innovation. The official contended that Democratic goals would not lower drug prices but instead hurt patients.

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