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Republicans and the pharmaceutical industry grow apart

Trump and HHS secretary Alex Azar
President Trump and HHS Secretary Alex Azar. Photo: Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

Remember when Republicans and the pharmaceutical industry were friends? The pharmaceutical industry does.

Between the lines: Republicans on Capitol Hill barely made a peep last week after the Trump administration rolled out a drug-pricing plan that arguably goes further than the Obama administration ever attempted. This is pharma's second notable setback in just a few months. It was also caught off guard by a Medicare change in a recent spending bill, and failed to persuade lawmakers to reverse that policy in their opioids legislation.

  • The drug industry was "blindsided" by last week's proposal, which was far more aggressive than anything they had expected to see from a Republican administration, my colleague Jonathan Swan and I reported this weekend.
  • "It's a totally new day when it comes to how congressional Republicans message this," a pharmaceutical industry lobbyist told Axios of last week's proposal. "This used to be kind of off limits, and it's definitely not now. And not only is it not off limits, it's kind of popular for them to talk about."

The big picture: Pharma has suffered very close to zero political losses for the past several years, thanks in part to strong lobbying and aggressive campaign contributions, which have tended to favor Republicans.

  • Pharma industry PACs have given almost $9 million to Republican candidates this cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, on top of $11 million in 2016 and $9 million in 2014.

Is the romance over? Not necessarily, the industry lobbyist said — Republicans are still a better bet for pharma than increasingly progressive Democrats.

  • A lot will depend on whether Trump's plan actually comes to fruition. The lobbyist said Republicans will likely say some of it needs to work its way through Congress — where it's likely to die — even if they didn't say much on the merits last week.

The bottom line: “The real fear is, what else is to come?" the lobbyist said. "If this is where we are 2 weeks before the election, and the House actually does flip, what are we going to see next year?”

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