On Friday, the Trump administration unveiled the latest policy move to come out of Pennsylvania Ave. In a fairly subdued and middle-of-the-road speech, the president announced what he described as a “blueprint” for lowering prescription drug prices.
The plan, which is largely considered to be unrealistic, is a drastically watered-down version compared to the rhetoric Donald Trump parsed on the campaign trail, making for the White House’s fourth major populist economic promise broken over the past year.
In January 2016, Trump told a New Hampshire crowd he would use Medicare’s economic leverage to negotiate drug prices to save the federal government $300 billion per year. However, much like many other campaign pledges, Trump reneged, saying he would opt instead for incremental changes to Medicare that had the possibility to lower some prices for some seniorenrs.
On the campaign trail, Trump blamed the Obama administration for not pursuing a tougher negotiation line “because of the drug companies”. However, the rally in pharmaceutical equity prices after Friday’s address seemed to confirm that no real tough line was coming from the current White House and that the drug lobby’s concerted efforts had effectively changed their policy goals.
However, the blatant about face in policy was not so clearly understood by some conservatives who simply blamed the change as a retreat from impractical promises.
“There is this problem that a lot of the things that were effective sound bytes just aren’t good policy,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a Republican former Congressional Budget Office director who had long warned that the Medicare leverage idea would never work.
However, the irony of the drug price situation, as with so many others of this administration, was not lost on some on Capitol Hill. Shortly after the president’s speech, Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) stated:
“There’s an irony. Donald Trump was elected by rural America, and he demonstrated in the campaign a connection to the concerns they have about how they’re getting ripped off. As president, he’s sided with the rip-off artists instead of the rural folks who voted for him.”
One thing is clear however, Trump’s prescription drug reform promises are difficult to see in the administration’s new policy position, with the original intent of the so-called populist president being overshadowed by the clear and blunt corporate interests of the same man.
[Washington Post] [New York Times] [Photo courtesy REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst via The Atlantic]