Elijah Cummings, Democrats push Trump to take on prescription drug prices

Congressman Elijah Cummings speaks after meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House on March 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. 

Sipa USA via AP

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, presented President Trump with a bill aimed at reducing prescription drug prices during a meeting at the White House on Wednesday – and Mr. Trump was “enthusiastic” about the proposal, the congressman said at a stakeout after the meeting, adding that a bill will be filed on the issue in a few weeks. 

“The President has publicly supported allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices, so I am hopeful that he will keep his promise to the American people and support our bill to lower prices for many drugs that help save lives,” Cummings’ office said in a statement, adding that the meeting was “productive” and that Cummings had given the president a copy of the draft bill and asked for his feedback and support.  

Cummings’ bill, co-authored with Vermont Rep. Peter Welch, would provide the Health and Human Services Secretary with the power to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs under Medicare.

Mr. Trump has, in the past, stressed the need to bring down drug prices. In a January press conference, he suggested the pharmaceutical industry was “getting away with murder,” and he raised the idea of allowing the government to bid on the drugs it purchases – an idea that’s roughly in sync with the proposal from Cummings and Welch.

Critics worry such a proposal could inhibit drug research and development. According to Politico, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, warned that Mr. Trump’s call for the government to negotiate prices is “dangerous because if you stifle the innovation we could lose all kinds of therapies that are very important.”

The meeting between Cummings and Mr. Trump was in the works for several weeks. In a press conference last month, the president said he had been scheduled to meet with Cummings, but the congressman backed out of the meeting because, in Mr. Trump’s telling, “He was probably told, ‘Don’t meet with Trump. It’s bad politics.’”

Cummings’ office disputed that account, and in an interview with “Face the Nation” several days after the presser, the congressman blamed a staff miscommunication for the misunderstanding. “He apparently was not in contact with his staff properly,” Cummings explained at the time.

In addition to raising the issue of prescription drugs, Cummings told “Face the Nation” moderator John Dickerson, “I’m also going to…talk to him about voting rights. You know, he talks about this voting fraud which is nonexistent, but he doesn’t talk about all of the millions of people who have been denied their right to vote because of suppression.”

After his meeting at the White House on Wednesday, Cummings said he pressed that case with the president as well, stressing the need for Vice President Pence’s inquiry into voter fraud to also include a look at voter suppression. 

“[T]he thing we do know is a problem is voter suppression and that you can’t have any reasonable investigation of voting in the U.S. unless you deal with that issue,” Cummings said.