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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

Ben Geman, author of Generate
May 20, 2021 - Energy & Environment

ExxonMobil and Dow join latest corporate push for carbon taxes

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Alliance for Market Solutions, a group trying to get political traction for carbon taxes, is launching a new advocacy campaign that counts ExxonMobil and Dow among its backers.

Why it matters: It's the first corporate support for the group that's seeking to win support among conservative lawmakers. The alliance had for years relied only on individual contributions.

3 hours ago - World

Canada First Nation finds mass grave at another school site

A memorial around the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on June 4, honoring 215 Indigenous children found buried in an unmarked, mass grave at a one-time residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia. Photo: David Kawai/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A First Nation in Canada said Wednesday "hundreds" of unmarked graves have been discovered at the site of a former residential school in the prairie province of Saskatchewan.

Of note: The Cowessess First Nation said in a statement the number of graves found are "the most significantly substantial to date in Canada" — suggesting it's more than the remains of 215 Indigenous children discovered last month at a former residential school site in Kamloops, British Columbia.

Biden replaces FHFA director after Supreme Court ruling

Mark Calabria, then-director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, during a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill in 2020. Photo: Astrid Riecken/ Pool/Getty Images

The White House on Wednesday replaced the regulator who oversees mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, hours after a Supreme Court ruling enabled President Biden to oust the Trump appointee.

Why it matters: The removal of libertarian economist Mark Calabria as Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) director gives Biden more control over the fate of Freddie and Fannie, "which play an outsize role in the housing market and are central to many homeowners' ability to afford homes," per the New York Times.