'The president now appears to be attempting to buy votes just weeks before the election using taxpayer dollars,' lawmakers said.
Donald Trump is trying to repair his flagging popularity with American seniors with his own fast-cash scheme, according to top Democrats and consumer advocates.
Last month, Trump abruptly announced a plan to distribute $200 drug-discount cards to seniors, which they would be able to redeem at pharmacies. Medicare beneficiaries are expected to receive the debit cards as early as this week.
Trump announced the "America First Healthcare Plan" on Sept. 24.
"Under my plan, 33 million Medicare beneficiaries will soon receive a card in the mail containing $200 that they can use to help pay for prescription drugs. Nobody has seen this before. These cards are incredible. The cards will be mailed out in coming weeks," Trump said at the time.
The debit cards would be paid for by dipping into the country's Medicare Trust Fund, which covers health services for Medicare beneficiaries and is funded with tax revenue. Trump's plan would cost taxpayers an estimated $7.9 billion.
"The Medicare Trust Funds are not the Administration’s personal piggybank — they are taxpayer funds that are to be used for a specific purpose," three top Democrats wrote in a letter to Trump administration officials last month.
On Tuesday, the same three Democratic leaders accused Trump of trying to "buy votes" from seniors.
Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Finance, sent two letters on Tuesday.
The first letter was addressed to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
"After four years of empty promises to lower drug prices for the American people, the president now appears to be attempting to buy votes just weeks before the election using taxpayer dollars," the lawmakers wrote.
The lawmakers said the Trump administration does not have the authority to proceed with the drug cards, citing Section 402 of the Social Security Amendments of 1967.
"Exploiting the health needs of Medicare beneficiaries in the midst of a pandemic that has claimed 210,000 American lives is not only cruel, but raises serious legal questions about the misuse of taxpayer dollars to improperly influence the approaching election," the letter continued.
The Democrats wrote a second letter to the Government Accountability Office, calling for an "expedited review" of Trump's plan and requesting the agency's "prompt attention" by Oct. 19.
An HHS spokesperson confirmed the agency had received the letter from Democrats, but declined to comment further, adding only that the Trump administration "would respond directly to Congress."
Last month, Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy nonprofit, called Trump's $200 cash card plan a "transparent and pathetic attempt to bribe votes."
"The solution to high pharma prices is not giving people money to offset extortionate drug prices; the solution is to end price gouging altogether," the watchdog group tweeted.
Trump's reelection chances will be in jeopardy if he can't retain the senior vote. In 2016, 53% of voters over the age of 65 voted for Trump, compared to 44% who voted for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Recent polling has shown Biden opening a double-digit lead with seniors. Voters over the age of 60 historically have the highest turnout rate of any age group.
People over the age of 65 make up 79% of all deaths related to the coronavirus, which has claimed the lives of more than 215,000 Americans. One recent CNN poll found that 78% of respondents from that age group listed the coronavirus outbreak as an "extremely important" factor in deciding their vote.