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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

Updated 2 hours ago - Health

California surpasses 50,000 COVID-19 deaths

A man prepares a funeral arrangement in in Los Angeles, California, Feb. 12. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

California's death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 50,000 on Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: It's the first state to record more than 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

4 hours ago - Technology

Facebook bans Myanmar military

A protester holds a placard with a three-finger salute in front of a military tank parked aside the street in front of the Central Bank building during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Aung Kyaw Htet/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook said on Wednesday it would ban the rest of the Myanmar military from its platform.

The big picture: It comes some three weeks after the military overthrew the civilian government in a coup and detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi, causing massive protests to erupt throughout the country. Military leaders have been using internet blackouts to try to maintain power in light of the coup.

It's harder to fill the Cabinet

Data: Chamberlain, 2020, "United States of America Cabinet Appointments Dataset" Chart: Will Chase/Axios

It's harder now for presidents to win Senate confirmation for their Cabinet picks, an Axios data analysis of votes for and against nominees found.

Why it matters: It's not just Neera Tanden. The trend is a product of growing polarization, rougher political discourse and slimming Senate majorities, experts say. It means some of the nation's most vital federal agencies go without a leader and the legislative authority that comes with one.