House Democrats launch health care ads during impeachment trial

House Democrats are banking on a health care focused message to protect the majority they won in 2018, while the third presidential impeachment in US history consumes the Senate.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced Monday its first major ad of the election year, spending at least $1 million dollars to blame Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republicans in Congress for blocking House legislation to lower prescription drug costs. The 30-second spot will run on cable markets in major cities from California to Texas to Florida.

“We’re not going to let Washington Republicans get away with padding the pockets of drug manufacturers and special interests that financed their campaigns while everyday Americans’ prescription drug costs skyrocket,” said DCCC Chair Cheri Bustos, an Illinois congresswoman.

The ad is the most significant sign yet that House Democrats are seeking to elevate McConnell, who is less popular than President Donald Trump, as the face of the Republican Party in 2020, similar to how Republicans prominently featured House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in attack ads on their way to capturing the House in 2010. It’s also one of the largest TV advertising investments so far by either the DCCC or its GOP counterpart, the National Republican Congressional Committee. The combined groups spent only about $4 million on TV in 2019, mostly focused on a North Carolina special election.

The DCCC has a big cash advantage over its Republican rival, having on hand $18 million more than the NRCC by the end of November 2019. But one Republican Super PAC — the Congressional Leadership Fund — announced on Monday that it has $28 million in cash on hand.

CLF President Dan Conston told CNN the Democrats ad was “nothing more than smoke and mirrors to distract from the reality that Democrats have nothing to show for their time in the majority but a hyper-partisan attempt to impeach President Trump.”

“As impeachment continues to cloud out everything else in Washington, Democrats are desperate to turn the page and turn around their chances for 2020,” he added.

Last month, the House passed a drug price bill backed by Pelosi, but it’s not expected to make it through the Senate. The bill would empower the Health and Human Services secretary to negotiate annually for the best prices on up to 250 medications and require drug companies to pay a rebate to the government if the prices of certain drugs increased faster than inflation. McConnell has said it is derived from the Democrats’ “same old one-size fits all, government-controlled philosophy” that inhibits “choice,” “competition” and “free enterprise.”

NRCC spokesman Chris Pack told CNN, “It’s alarming to see Democrats so proudly peddling a big government drug bill that stifles the research and creation of new drugs to combat life threatening illnesses.”

Drug makers hiked prices on hundreds of medications for 2020, but it’s unclear what the Senate will do to lower drug costs.

Sens. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who leads the Finance Committee, and Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, updated their drug price bill last month, but it still faces a tough road in the chamber. That bill would require drug makers to pay Medicare if they increase prices faster than inflation on certain medications, a provision that has rankled many Senate Republicans.

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