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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Millions of dollars are being poured into the fight over prescription drug costs — and not just from pharmaceutical companies and their allies. Consumer groups are making clear that they're not letting up on the issue, either.

Why it matters: Lowering prescription drug costs has been a top Democratic priority for years and is hugely popular among the public, a fact that both supporters and opponents of reform aren't taking lightly.

State of play: The path ahead for Democrats' major drug pricing bill — which includes a measure that would allow Medicare to negotiate prices — became even less clear earlier this month when 10 centrist House Democrats signaled their opposition to the bill in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as Politico reported.

  • The House bill has always faced an even higher lift in the Senate, where all 50 Democrats would have to support it for any real hope of passage.
  • But polling suggests that support for lowering drug prices is sky high across all political ideologies. In December, a KFF poll found that 89% of respondents said they support allowing the government to negotiate lower drug prices.

Driving the news: Multiple groups have announced seven-figure ad spends on drug pricing just this month.

  • Yesterday, Patients for Affordable Drugs Now announced it's launching a seven-figure national campaign in support of the House bill in 42 House districts — including those of the members who signed the letter to Pelosi.
  • The purpose of the multimillion-dollar campaign is "to make sure that we maintain momentum and that pharma’s lies and scare tactics don’t go unanswered," said David Mitchell, the group's founder.
  • Earlier this month, Protect Our Care also launched a seven-figure campaign advocating for Medicare to be able to negotiate drug prices.

The other side: The American Action Network has announced it will spend at least $5 million opposing the House bill. And the pharmaceutical and health products industry is by far the top lobbying spender so far in 2021, as is usually the case, per the Center for Responsive Politics.

  • “The left has long believed socialist price controls on prescription drugs would be a political winner. But now with unified control of Congress and a real chance to move it, we want to ensure voters see firsthand just how devastating their gambit really is," said Calvin Moore, communications director for AAN.

Between the lines: For most other issues, an unclear path forward paired with multiple competing legislative priorities wouldn't exactly be a recipe for success. But lowering drug prices is way more popular than most other issues.

  • “I think the fact that drug pricing is such a popular issue in the electorate is one of the key factors that has helped keep it in play — and will keep it in play," Mitchell said. "There’s a big upside to doing something to lower drug prices, and there’s a big downside at the ballot box next fall to not doing something to lower drug prices."
  • The policy also saves the federal government billions of dollars, which could help offset the cost of Democrats' other legislative priorities — a rare feature of popular policy measures.

Go deeper

$3.5 trillion budget plan stalls in House amid standoff between Pelosi, centrists

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi departs the House Democratic Caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The $3.5 trillion budget framework stalled in the House early Tuesday after tense negotiations between Democratic leaders and centrists failed to reach an agreement.

Driving the news: Moderate Democrats, who have vowed to block the deal until a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package is passed, held out on early Tuesday morning as divisions in the party flared, the New York Times writes.

Updated 19 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Virginia attorney general fires Jan. 6 investigator from university post

McIntire Amphitheater at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo: Robert Knopes/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The lead investigator for the Jan. 6 House select committee investigating the Capitol riot has been fired from his position as the University of Virginia's counsel by the state's new Republican attorney general, per the Washington Post.

Why it matters: Democrats say the removal of Tim Heaphy from his post after some three years while he's on leave from the university to investigate the insurrection is likely "retribution" for the House probe — an accusation strongly denied by the office of state Attorney General Jason Miyares (R).

4 hours ago - Sports

Gonzaga University revokes NBA great John Stockton's tickets over mask stance

Former Utah Jazz player John Stockton during a 2017 press conference in Salt Lake City. Photo: Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Gonzaga University suspended the season tickets of notable alumni John Stockton after the NBA Hall of Famer failed to comply with the school's basketball games mask mandate, the Spokesman-Review first reported.

Driving the news: "Basically, it came down to, they were asking me to wear a mask to the games and being a public figure, someone a little bit more visible, I stuck out in the crowd a little bit," the former Utah Jazz point guard told the outlet in an interview Saturday.