Does Impeachment Destroy Any Hope of a Trump-Pelosi Deal on Drug Prices?

Does Impeachment Destroy Any Hope of a Trump-Pelosi Deal on Drug Prices?

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Plus, what Dem candidates would pay under their tax plans.
Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Does Impeachment Destroy Any Hope of a Trump-Pelosi Deal on Drug Prices?

As the House impeachment probe into President Trump threatens to push aside envelop everything else on the political landscape, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried Wednesday to emphasize that Democrats still intend to pursue a domestic policy agenda.

“They have nothing to do with each other,” Pelosi told reporters at a press conference that she began by talking about her prescription drug bill. “We have a responsibility to uphold our oath of office and defend the Constitution. We also have a responsibility to get the job done for the American people.”

Pelosi brought up drug prices and congressional talks with the administration on its new trade deal with Mexico and Canada. She even mentioned infrastructure. The gathered press was understandably more focused on impeachment. “Does anybody in this room care about the cost of prescription drugs and what it means to America’s working families?” Pelosi said after opening up her press conference to questions. “Does anyone care about the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement?”

Trump’s focus is clearly on impeachment as well. The president took to Twitter while Pelosi was speaking to accuse her of trying to “camouflage” Democratic electioneering. “Nancy Pelosi just said that she is interested in lowering prescription drug prices & working on the desperately needed USMCA,” he tweeted. “She is incapable of working on either. It is just camouflage for trying to win an election through impeachment. The Do Nothing Democrats are stuck in mud!”

In a separate tweet, he said “Democrats should be focused on building up our Country, not wasting everyone’s time and energy on BULLSHIT, which is what they have been doing ever since I got overwhelmingly elected.”

A small step forward: Yet if the prospect of passing legislation on drug prices seems dim, both sides still do want to show some progress, and they haven’t abandoned all efforts at working together. Senior White House aides met with some Democratic counterparts on Tuesday to discuss drug pricing legislation, the Associated Press reports. Joe Grogan, director of Trump’s Domestic Policy Council, told the AP it was “a very cordial and productive working session.”

Still, a deal on drug prices may be a longshot: “It will take both sides acting in good faith to get bipartisan legislation done,” The Washington Post’s Amber Phillips writes. “That’s difficult in the best of times in a divided government. We are not in the best of times.”

Another big challenge ahead: Phillips also notes that Congress and Trump still have to agree on funding the government for fiscal year 2020. The fiscal year started Tuesday, and lawmakers have passed a short-term spending bill to keep the government running until shortly before Thanksgiving. But the impeachment push, combined with Trump’s continued emphasis on securing funding for his border wall, could complicate efforts to reach a bipartisan deal on full-year funding bills. If they can’t reach a deal, lawmakers might resort to a series of short-term extensions. “That would seem like a failure to compromise, since funding the government for a whole year is Congress’s most basic job,” Phillips says. “But in the middle of a historic impeachment inquiry, nearing an election year where both sides have something at stake, it is possible that avoiding a government shutdown is all the compromise we are going to see.”

Trump to Roll Out Plan for the Future of Medicare

President Trump will reportedly lay out his plan for the future of Medicare as part of a speech in Florida retirement community Thursday focused on defending his health care record and contrasting it with progressive Democratic proposals for a Medicare for All system.

“The president intends to draw a clear contrast with Democrats: He aims to protect and improve Medicare while providing choice, even as some Democrats push for vastly expanded or universal Medicare that Trump argues will increase costs and kill existing plans,” Bloomberg News reported.

Trump is expected to sign an executive order calling in part for further privatization of Medicare via the expansion of popular Medicare Advantage plans administered by private insurers. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has said that it will let Medicare Advantage plans offer new supplemental benefits that go beyond just paying for traditional hospital and doctor visits if the offerings can be expected to maintain or improve the wellbeing of plan enrollees.

Trump’s order is titled “Protecting Medicare from Socialist Destruction,” according to Bloomberg, though the Washington Examiner says it’s called “Protecting and Improving Medicare For Our Nation’s Seniors.”

“We will be looking for more options for seniors to choose Medicare Advantage and tailor different Medicare Advantage programs for them,” Joe Grogan, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, told an Orlando cable news channel.

The Washington Examiner detailed some of the offering private insurers will be marketing to customers ahead of this year’s open enrollment period, which starts October 15:

• Cigna will let patients reach their doctors over their computers and smartphones to get routine care;
• SCAN Compass in California is opening up options for acupuncture and massage therapy;
• Anthem’s MaineCare will provide patients with nutritional advice and with rides to doctors’ appointments;
• HealthPartners is setting up online and delivery options for prescription drugs and providing a higher allowance for hearing aids;
• and Amerigroup in Texas is letting its customers pick a handful of wellness services, such as a fitness device, pest control, or service animal support.

Elizabeth Warren Wants to Tax Corporate Lobbying

Elizabeth Warren released a proposal Wednesday to tax companies that spend more than $500,000 a year on lobbying the federal government. The goal of the plan is to “end lobbying as we know it,” Warren said in statement, by increasing the cost of “excess lobbying.”

The proposal is part of Warren’s broader effort to combat what she sees as corruption in the U.S. political system. “[C]orporate interests spend more on lobbying than we spend to fund both houses of Congress — spending more than $2.8 billion on lobbying last year alone,” Warren said. “That’s why I have a plan to strengthen congressional independence from lobbyists and give Congress the resources it needs to defend against these influence campaigns.”

How it would work: Warren’s plan, which exempts charitable and social welfare organizations, would impose a new tax on lobbying expenditures, with the tax rate growing progressively higher along with spending:

  • 35% tax on lobbying expenditures between $500,000 and $1 million
  • 60% tax on expenditures between $1 million and $5 million
  • 75% tax on expenditures above $5 million.

How much money it would raise: While Warren’s objective is to reduce the influence of lobbyists and the firms they represent, the tax would produce some fairly sizable revenues if companies continued to lobby as they do today. Warren said that if the tax had been in effect over the last 10 years, more than 1,600 companies would have paid about $10 billion total, based on their history of lobbying expenditures. The maximum rate of 75% would have been applied to 51 companies, including Pfizer, Boeing, Microsoft, Walmart, Exxon and Koch Industries, Warren said.

Warren’s campaign released a chart (see below) that shows how some of the biggest spenders on lobbying would have fared with the tax over the last decade. Alphabet/Google, for example, would have faced a $94 million tax bill on its $141 million in spending on lobbying during that time. The biggest spender, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, would have paid about $770 million on its roughly $1 billion in lobbying spending.

Would it work? The proposed tax would likely be challenged on legal grounds. “I think any plan to tax lobbying is almost certainly unconstitutional,” Robert Kelner of the law firm Covington & Burling told Time. “It’s extraordinarily likely to be struck down by the Supreme Court if not by lower courts, because it would directly undermine the First Amendment right to petition our government,” he added.

Other experts disagree, however, arguing that the current, big bucks lobbying system is far from anything the Constitution’s framers could imagine. “There is no constitutional right to an unregulated, opaque and informal access to the Congress or to any legislature,” University of Pennsylvania law professor Maggie Blackhawk said. “That’s not what the petition clause was drafted to protect.”

Other objections to Warren’s proposal are more practical. Scott Greenberg, formerly with the Tax Foundation, said that companies would likely find ways around the regulations. “One avoidance technique would be to split your lobbying among lots of small groups, to avoid the $500k threshold,” Greenberg said. “Instead of one pharma trade group, create fifty separate ones.”

Chart of the Day: Dems Pay Up Under Their Own Tax Plans

Democratic presidential candidates are proposing a variety of new taxes to pay for their preferred social programs. Bloomberg’s Laura Davison and Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou took a look at how the top four candidates would fare under their own tax proposals.

On this date in 1869, 150 years ago, Mohandas K. Gandhi was born.

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