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Fox News was right: Donald Trump's budget math is nonsense

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Donald Trump made an unbelievable claim at the Fox News Republican debate Thursday night: He could balance the budget by negotiating down drug prices.

That's pretty much impossible: Medicare spent, as Fox pointed out, about $78 billion on prescription drugs last year — way less than the $300 billion that Trump believes we can save.

Moderator Chris Wallace was calling out Trump's proposed tax cuts. He pointed out that even with his proposed spending cuts — killing off the Education Department and EPA — his plan would still leave the country with a $544 billion deficit.

Trump had a fast response: He could make the numbers work by negotiating lower drug prices.

"Let me explain something," Trump said. "Because of the fact that the pharmaceutical companies, because of the fact that the pharmaceutical companies are not mandate to bid properly, they have hundreds of billions of dollars in waste."

This repeated a similar line of argument that Trump made at a February 7 campaign event, where he said, "If we competitively bid drugs in the United States, we can save as much as $300 billion a year."

Except, we can't. According to the Congressional Budget Office, Medicare spent an estimated $77 billion on drugs in 2015. (Fox News estimated the number to be $78 billion, but didn't cite a source for its number.)

It's true that we might be able to save some money if Medicare negotiated drug prices (right now, federal law prohibits such negotiation, requiring the government to pay the sticker price). But there's no space for $300 billion in savings there — not unless Trump is able to get the pharmaceutical companies to pay Medicare to take their drugs.