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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The White House and top lawmakers from both parties think a bill to lower drug prices has a better chance of becoming law before the 2020 election than any other controversial legislation.

Between the lines: Republican politics on drug prices have changed rapidly. The White House has told Democrats it has no red lines on the substance of drug pricing — a position that should leave pharma quaking.

What they're saying: "I think if we get a bipartisan deal on anything, it’s going to be this," a senior administration official told Axios, characterizing the thinking at the top level of the White House.

  • The official said that in the White House's conversations with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office, “the only red line that we have communicated" is that a drug pricing deal shouldn't be combined with any changes to the Affordable Care Act.
  • When asked specifically about red lines drawn around direct Medicare price negotiations — a top priority for Democrats — the official reiterated that “we’re not drawing any red lines on anything in the drug space right now.”
  • "We’re having conversations with the White House, but they are not negotiations," said Henry Connelly, a Pelosi spokesperson. "We’re looking at every option to maximize the leverage needed to drive down prescription drug prices.”

Yes, but: The official added that "if people want to pursue something out of religious zeal ... we’re not interested in that. If there’s a practical solution that will give patients and taxpayers a break, we’re open to it.”

Top lawmakers and lobbyists have told Axios over the last several months that real momentum has been building behind the issue.

  • “It’s created interesting alliances and probably is the number one topic for legislatively addressing an issue for the remainder of this year," House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said.
  • "In this unusual three-sided political world, dealing with prescription drug prices seems to have the best chances of a legislative accomplishment," said House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, adding that he was referring to the Democratic House, the Republican Senate and the "unaffiliated White House."

The other side: The drug industry warns that government intervention on prices will result in less innovation, and President Trump has shown an interest in new treatments.

  • "When he has conversations around new treatments for things — the new genetic treatments, the sickle cell treatments, all these new therapies that are coming online — he gets very excited about them," the administration official said. "He’s very sympathetic to that, and he wants to make sure that ... this biopharmaceutical ecosystem continues."

What we're watching: Bipartisan bills have already started progressing through the House, establishing a floor for what Congress could accomplish even without the weight of a White House-Pelosi deal.

  • The Senate is likely to see significant movement before the August recess.
  • "It’s all got to get wrapped up by December, because nothing’s going to happen next year because of the election," the administration official said. "I think you’ll start to see, hopefully, terminal velocity in the summertime.”

Not everyone is confident Congress will be able to pull this off.

  • “Anything that gets done would need to be passed before the August recess, which itself is growing more unlikely as time passes and fights over the ACA and other issues erode whatever bipartisan collaboration that might have existed," a former Trump administration official told Axios.

Details: Republicans have recently put forward a slate of new bills, some of which could have been written by liberal Democrats.

  • Sen. Rick Scott introduced a bill that would ban drug companies from charging Americans a higher list price than they charge consumers in Canada, France, the U.K., Japan or Germany.
  • Sen. Mike Braun, who also introduced legislation, told Axios: “I’m just disgusted that we're at this point in time where we're apologizing for a broke industry and they’re not waking up and doing something about it on their own."
  • Sen. John Cornyn plans to introduce a bill that would allow the Federal Trade Commission to bring antitrust suits against drugmakers who use the patent system to discourage competition.
  • Meadows said he's part of a bipartisan group that's discussing changes to the administration's international pricing proposal, which ties Medicare reimbursement rates to what other countries pay for the same drug.

Go deeper

Scoop: Stephanie Murphy announcing challenge to Marco Rubio

Rep. Stephanie Murphy. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy is planning to announce a campaign for the U.S. Senate in Florida against Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in early June, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Murphy is a proven fundraiser. Jumping in now would give her an early start to build her case for the Democratic nomination and potentially force Rubio and allied GOP groups to spend heavily to retain a seat in a state that’s trending Republican.

Inside the GOP's infrastructure strategy

Sen. Roger Wicker. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Top Republican senators are hoping the White House will make some sort of counteroffer to their infrastructure proposal when they meet with President Biden on Thursday, lawmakers and their aides tell Axios.

Why it matters: This is a sign of how serious the negotiations are, they say. In advance of the meeting, some of the senators are already publicly signaling the areas in which they have flexibility.

By the numbers: Senate seats to watch in 2022

Data: Axios Research, Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Elections; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

While Republicans are giddy about their chances for regaining the House next year, GOP prospects for taking the Senate remain more uncertain, data reviewed by Axios suggests.

By the numbers: At least five Republican senators are retiring after the midterms, and four of their seats are in battleground states. That makes a simple Republican-for-Republican election exchange all the more difficult.