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September 26, 2019

What the House's impeachment inquiry could mean for health care

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    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday announced that the House is launching a formal impeachment inquiry, which analysts say could jeopardize negotiations between Congress and the White House on a proposal to lower prescription drug prices.

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    The formal impeachment inquiry comes in response to a whistleblower complaint alleging President Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination for president, and Biden's son.

    The Constitution states that a president can be removed from office for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors," NBC News reports. To remove the president, the House would have to vote to impeach the president, and at least two-thirds of the Senate would have to find the president is guilty.

    Pelosi has not yet indicated exactly how the House will proceed with the inquiry. So far, she has charged six House committees to investigate the allegations, but it is unclear whether the House will vote to formalize the impeachment inquiry or whether the individual committee investigations will be combined, Roll Call reports.

    What an impeachment inquiry could mean for health care policies

    Since Pelosi's announcement, analysts have said an impeachment process would represent a major undertaking and would likely stall progress on health care legislative proposals, Bloomberg reports.

    Raymond James health care policy analyst Chris Meekins in a morning note Monday wrote, "When an administration and a chamber of Congress are at war, rarely does anything other than what is absolutely required get done. That means anything that is not on a firm deadline (like government funding), is unlikely to get done (think drug pricing)."

    Sarah Bianchi, Evercore ISI's head of U.S. public policy, in a note Tuesday wrote that Pelosi's proposal to lower prescription drug prices is among the health care bills likely to be set aside if the impeachment process goes forward. Bianchi said, "Prescription drug pricing legislation was already likely to be watered down—or perhaps not pass at all," and the inquiry has decreased the likelihood of any progress. Bianchi also noted the impeachment could affect a new trade agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada that has implications for health care.

    Chris Krueger, the managing director of Cowen & Co.'s Cowen Washington Research Group, agreed, saying bipartisan agreement on prescription drug prices could be "collateral damage" from the impeachment inquiry.

    The White House on Tuesday declined to comment on whether officials planned to continue negotiations with Pelosi on a proposal to lower prescription drug costs, according to Inside Health Policy.

    However, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham in a statement said Pelosi's decision to purse an impeachment inquiry has "destroyed any chances of legislative progress for the people of this country by continuing to focus all their energy on partisan political attacks."

    Trump in a tweet wrote, "The Democrats are so focused on hurting the Republican Party and the President that they are unable to get anything done because of it, including legislation on … lowering of prescription drug prices, infrastructure, etc. So bad for our Country!"

    However, Pelosi on Wednesday suggested she was hopeful Trump would still work with her on prescription drugs prices and other policy priorities. "I don't think that erases any concern he might have for America's working families and their need for lower drug prices," Pelosi said.

    Several Republicans said they believed the allegations against Trump should be investigated by Congress, but that Pelosi's impeachment inquiry went too far, Roll Call reports.

    Speaking to the allegations against Trump, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) told reports, "We're going to get to the bottom of this, and that's the same answer you're going to get from me."

    Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who unveiled text for a separate drug pricing proposal in the Senate Thursday morning, said, "If Democrats use impeachment proceedings as a basis to not act on policy that will directly benefit Americans … [by] lowering prescription drug prices, that would prove they're more interested in politics and opposing the president at all costs than serving the American people."

    Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said that progress on congressional legislative efforts will depend on how the House proceeds. "If they decide to, it's going suck a lot of oxygen out of here and probably keeps us from doing a lot of the things that most Americans expect us to be focused on"  (Wilkerson/Cohrs, Inside Health Policy, 9/24 [subscription required]; Savage, New York Times, 9/25; Williams, NBC News, 9/24; Ossinger, Bloomberg, 9/24; Witkowski, MarketWatch, 9/25; McPherson, Roll Call, 9/24; McIntire/Clason, CQ News, 9/25 [subscription required]).

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