In today's Los Angeles Times Tom Hamburger reports on the extent to which former Louisiana Congressman Billy Tauzin has managed to integrate himself, and the interests of the lobbying group he heads -- the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA) -- into the health care debate. The Times piece practices a studied neutrality, but I can't see how any proponent of meaningful health care reform can possibly read this piece and not conclude that President Barack Obama has essentially given away the store:
As a candidate for president, Barack Obama lambasted drug companies and the influence they wielded in Washington. He even ran a television ad targeting the industry's chief lobbyist, former Louisiana congressman Billy Tauzin, and the role Tauzin played in preventing Medicare from negotiating for lower drug prices.
Since the election, Tauzin has morphed into the president's partner. He has been invited to the White House half a dozen times in recent months. There, he says, he eventually secured an agreement that the administration wouldn't try to overturn the very Medicare drug policy that Obama had criticized on the campaign trail.
"The White House blessed it," Tauzin said.
Yikes! What's been blessed? Something that reeks with the acrid aroma of a Faustian bargain. The pharamaceutical industry "has pledged $80 billion in cost savings over 10 years to help pay for it." What did Tauzin get in return?
For his part, Tauzin said he had not only received the White House pledge to forswear Medicare drug price bargaining, but also a separate promise not to pursue another proposal Obama supported during the campaign: importing cheaper drugs from Canada or Europe. Both proposals could cost the industry billions, undermine its ability to develop new cures and, in the case of imports, possibly compromise safety, industry officials contend.
Of course, Medicare drug price bargaining is precisely the sort of thing that would benefit actual health care customers. In essence, this reads as a deal by which corporate interests help to hurdle the political obstacle of deficit cost control without creating an effective bill. The White House can claim credit for "reform," while alleviating the actual health care impact on families gets kicked down the road, once again.
PhRMA has spent huge sums of money lobbying Congress for a health care bill that will ensure their profitability. In the first quarter of this year, Tauzin's outfit spent $6,910,000 in pursuit of the bill they wanted. They matched that amount in the second quarter with another $6,150,000. The efforts seem to be paying off!
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Rodrigo González Fernández
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