WASHINGTON — In an unusual move, House Republicans are warning drug companies against complying with a House investigation into drug prices.
Republicans on the House Oversight Committee sent letters to a dozen CEOs of major drug companies warning that information they provide to the committee could be leaked to the public by Democratic chair Elijah Cummings in an effort to tank their stock prices.
Cummings requested information from 12 drug companies such as Pfizer Inc., Johnson & Johnson, and Novartis AG in January as part of a broad investigation into how the industry sets prescription drug prices.
In their letters, Reps. Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows — leaders of the hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus — imply that Cummings may be attempting to collect the information in order to bring down the industry’s stock prices.
They write that Cummings is seeking sensitive information “that would likely harm the competitiveness of your company if disclosed publicly.” They then accuse Cummings of “releasing cherry-picked excerpts from a highly sensitive closed-door interview” conducted in an investigation into White House security clearances. “This is not the first time he has released sensitive information unilaterally,” says the letter. The authors say they “feel obliged to alert” the drug companies of Cummings’ actions.
Democrats expressed bafflement at the letters. While politicians routinely spar over committee work, warning companies not to comply with an investigation is unconventional — perhaps even unprecedented, Democrats say.
“Rep. Jordan is on the absolute wrong side here,” Cummings said in an emailed statement to BuzzFeed News. “He would rather protect drug company ‘stock prices’ than the interests of the American people.”
In their letter, Jordan and Meadows say that “while we cannot speculate about Chairman Cummings’ motives,” the committee should not pursue an investigation designed to impact stock prices.
This hinges on a quote from Cummings saying he has three staffers he calls “the drug team” who work on the high cost of drugs and that their work has lowered drug company stocks.
The quote omits the full context of Cummings’ remarks. At the time he was appearing before the Committee on House Administration seeking an increase in funding for his committee. (Jordan, as the ranking Oversight Republican, objected to a funding increase.)
The letter quotes Cummings as saying of his drug team: “If you follow the headlines, we have already seen the impact they have had… on stock prices with regard to drugs. I mean, it has been astronomical.” The letter omits the rest of the sentence: “saving the taxpayers money.”
In the edited quote, Cummings seems to be bragging about an “astronomical” impact on drug company stocks. In the context of his statements before and after, he seems to be saying the “astronomical” impact is on taxpayer savings, which justify giving his committee more resources. A minute later he says: “Whatever you all give us, we will give it back in savings by rooting out fraud, waste, and abuse.”
Jordan’s office insisted that the letter does not tell companies not to respond to Cummings’ requests, and in fact encourages the companies to cooperate with “responsible and legitimate” oversight. However, Jordan’s office reiterated that he has grave concerns that in this case Democrats are out to destroy drug company stock value.