A quagmire of health policy fights in Congress got more complicated last week when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi formally launched impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.
Lawmakers already faced headwinds for their agenda of reforms that require either a unified bipartisan front against industry opposition, as in the proposed ban of surprise medical bills, or White House coordination with Democrats to bring reluctant Republicans on board with aggressive reforms to lower drug prices.
Soon after Pelosi announced she would support the impeachment inquiry, the administration released a statement that threatened a freeze on legislative progress.
“House Democrats have destroyed any chances of legislative progress for the people of this country by continuing to focus all their energy on partisan political attacks,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in the statement last week. “Their attacks on the president and his agenda are not only partisan and pathetic, they are in dereliction of their constitutional duty.”
This sentiment, reiterated by leading Republicans, coincided with the House Democrats’ first hearing on Pelosi’s plan to authorize government negotiation for some drug prices. Pelosi also incorporated Trump’s yet-to-be-finalized policy that would tie Medicare drug prices to lower prices paid in other developed countries.
While Republicans widely panned the speaker’s proposal, Trump has so far signaled tentative support. Hours after Pelosi released the legislation last week the president tweeted that it was “great to see” her bill.
Senate Finance Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who is counting on Trump to bring GOP senators around to his major bipartisan bill with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), said he hoped legislative talks could still move ahead.
“I wish the president, or the folks at the White House or whoever’s doing this wouldn’t say that just because of impeachment we’re going to shut everything down, because I would criticize the Democrats if they don’t want to work on things like … drug pricing and things that I’m interested in, that it proves they’re only interested in politics,” Grassley said. “And so, I think that we ought to continue to get our policy done.”
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who is working with Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) on an effort to ban surprise medical bills and enact other major consumer protection reforms, said it’s too early to say how policy-making could change.
“It’s so hard to know right now, it can go either way, and I think a lot of us want to keep working on things,” said Murray, ranking member on the HELP committee. “But we’ll see what happens.”