On prescription drugs, Trump asks for bill Dems have already passed

A pharmacy employee dumps pills into a pill counting machine as she fills a prescription while working at a pharmacy in New York
A pharmacy employee dumps pills into a pill counting machine as she fills a prescription while working at a pharmacy in New York December 23, 2009.

Donald Trump's State of the Union address wasn't altogether normal, but neither was the reaction to the president's speech from House Democrats. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as you've probably heard, tore up a copy of Trump's speech in frustration. Some of her members left the chamber in disgust long before it was over.

But there was an unexpected chant from Democratic lawmakers partway through the remarks. The official transcript captured the context nicely:

My administration is also taking on the big pharmaceutical companies. We have approved a record number of affordable generic drugs, and medicines are being approved by the FDA at a faster clip than ever before. (Applause.) And I was pleased to announce last year that, for the first time in 51 years, the cost of prescription drugs actually went down. (Applause.)And working together, Congress can reduce drug prices substantially from current levels. I've been speaking to Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa and others in Congress in order to get something on drug pricing done, and done quickly and properly. I'm calling for bipartisan legislation that achieves the goal of dramatically lowering prescription drug prices. Get a bill on my desk, and I will sign it into law immediately. (Applause.)AUDIENCE: H.R.3! H.R.3! H.R.3!

For now, let's put aside the fact that Trump isn't "taking on the big pharmaceutical companies"; he's hiring pharmaceutical companies' employees for key governmental posts. We can also brush past the fact that his claim about the cost of prescription medications actually going down was demonstrably false.

Let's instead focus on his request for legislation on the issue, and why Democrats were so eager to reference "H.R. 3."

Whether the president knows this or not, it was just two months ago that the Democratic House majority delivered on one of its top priorities for this Congress, approving the "Lower Drug Costs Now Act" (H.R. 3), which intends to lower drug costs by empowering the federal government to leverage its Medicare purchasing power -- a position Trump used to agree with before he was lobbied in a different direction -- and negotiate directly with the private pharmaceutical industry.

It passed with relative ease, though nearly every House Republican voted against it.

The bill came six months after House Democrats passed a related bill addressing the cost of prescription drugs, which was designed to make it easier for generic drugs to enter the market.

In other words, Trump asked Congress to pass legislation to lower the cost of prescription medication, to which House Democrats effectively replied, "We already did."

On the other side of Capitol Hill, however, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has ignored the House-backed bills and has declined to offer Republican-backed alternatives. The likelihood of anything happening on this issue anytime this year is practically zero.