Friday, November 24, 2006

Billy Tauzin: Defending the Indefensible

The New York Times has an article today about how the pharmaceutical industry is reacting to the results of the November 7 election.

They're scared.

But, their lead lobbyist is former Louisiana Congressman Billy Tauzin and Tauzin is out there hustling to justify his $2.5 million annual salary by trying to block passage of legislation which would allow the federal government to rein in the pharmaceutical gravy train that is also known as the Medicare Prescription Drug Program (or Medicare Part D). Failing that, Tauzin wants President Bush to veto any such legislation that makes its way out of the Democratic-controlled Congress next year.

The Times provides this summation of the situation:
Hoping to prevent Congress from letting the government negotiate lower drug prices for millions of older Americans on Medicare, the pharmaceutical companies have been recruiting Democratic lobbyists, lining up allies in the Bush administration and Congress, and renewing ties with organizations of patients who depend on brand-name drugs.

Many drug company lobbyists concede that the House is likely to pass a bill intended to drive down drug prices, but they are determined to block such legislation in the Senate. If that strategy fails, they are counting on President Bush to veto any bill that passes. With 49 Republicans in the Senate next year, the industry is confident that it can round up the 34 votes normally needed to uphold a veto.

While that showdown is a long way off, the drug companies are not wasting time. They began developing strategy last week at a meeting of the board of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Billy Tauzin, president of that group, a lobbying organization for brand-name drug companies, recently urged Representative Edolphus Towns, Democrat of New York, to seek a position as chairman of a powerful House subcommittee, said Karen Johnson, a spokeswoman for Mr. Towns. The subcommittee has authority over Medicare and the Food and Drug Administration.
Ah, yes! Hurled out of control of Congress by an electorate that had grown tired of the corruption and the favoritism shown special interest groups over the needs of citizens, one of the richest special interest groups in the country is gearing up to protect their plunder.

Tauzin, is must be noted, got his job in exchange for writing in the provision that prevents the federal government from negotiating over the price of drugs covered by the Medicare Part D program. That wasn't corruption; that was the K Street Project in operation. Note, too, that former Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson is now a vice president of PHARMA. Guess it was a package deal offered by a grateful industry?

Tauzin, ever the hypocrite, says he's only defending the interests of beneficiaries, many of whom are happy with the program. Well, no doubt they are happy, but they would be a damned site happier if the costs of the drugs were lower, particularly once they cross-over into the 'doughnut' part of the program where all drug expenses come out of the pockets of seniors.

As a read of the article indicates, the outcome is far from certain, owing in no small measure to the influence (read that "campaign dollars") the pharmaceutical industry packs in Washington.

The real test for Democrats on this effort to reform Medicare Part D will really come down to whether they are serious about ethics reform or not. If the pharmaceutical industry (and people like Billy Tauzin) can prevail in fighting off this reform, then it will be a clear signal of the need for radical surgery on lobbying and campaign finance reform. It will also indicate that the new Democratic Congress might well have a short stay in the majority.

No comments: