One of the great tragedies of the Bush Administration was President Bush’s sweet deal with the pharmaceutical industry contained in the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act (Medicare Part D). That deal included a provision, marshaled into place for the President by the former Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Congressman Billy Tauzin, that forbad the U.S. government from negotiating down the per unit price of drugs subsidized by the federal government in that awful bill. In other words, Congress gave the pharmaceutical industry an open U.S. Treasury check into which they could effectively write any amount (because the bill disallowed negotiated volume discounts on the per unit price of drugs financed through Medicare Part D). Endeavoring to outflank John Kerry during the re-election campaign, Bush promised seniors a free lunch (drugs for all at taxpayer’s expense). That sweet deal for the drug industry held out the promise for lucrative kickbacks in the form of handsome salaries for key members of Congress and their staffs. Indeed, Tauzin ultimately left Congress and became employed as the director of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (the very entity that had lobbied him for the no-negotiation provision on behalf of industry), receiving a salary and benefits package worth approximately $2.5 million per year.
The unseemly politics that led to the passage of the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act is one topic in my book The Rise of Tyranny. In 2007 veteran CBS News 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft did a masterful job of exposing the rife influence peddling and arm twisting that went into securing passage of that bill in the wee hours of the morning away from the media spotlight. Dan Burton of Indiana was one of the staunchest critics of this massive corporate welfare bill.
Burton was seemingly not alone. None other than 2008 Presidential candidate Barack Obama seized on the corrupt deal. He ran the following television ad, entitled “Billy,” during his first campaign:
The pharmaceutical industry wrote into the prescription drug plan that Medicare could not negotiate with drug companies. And you know what, the chairman of the committee, who pushed the law through went to work for the pharmaceutical industry making 2 million dollars a year.
Barack Obama is the only candidate who refuses Washington lobbyist money.
Imagine that. That’s an example of the same old game playing in Washington. You know I don’t want to learn how to play the game better, I want to put an end to the game playing.
Once in office, however, Obama quickly broke his “no game playing” promise and embraced “Billy,” the very man he condemned in this 2008 ad. Within the first few months of his administration, President Obama began meeting with pharmaceutical industry lobbyists and executives at the White House. So much for his pledge to keep them at bay.
The drug industry feared efforts then underway by former Congressman Dennis Kucinich and others to remove the no-negotiation ban from the prescription drug benefit law. They also feared efforts to permit the re-importation for sale of prescription drugs sold outside the United States for less than prices charged domestically.
To help stop removal of the no-negotiation ban and permission for drug re-importation (a practice forbidden by FDA as “gray marketing”), big pharma spent over $38 million and dispatched some 165 influence peddlers to work over members on the Hill and aides to the President. Of the 165, 137 were former employees of the legislative or executive branches. You will never guess who won that fight, and it is not the American people.
In my recent book, Restore the Republic, I explain what happened next:
As President Obama endeavored to gain support for what would be the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (so-called “Obamacare”), he continuously tried to get the pharmaceutical industry to engage its lobbyists and resources in support of the bill. He met at the White House with Billy Tauzin (who he condemned in his campaign ad) on March 5, 2009; May 19, 2009; June 2, 2009; and July 7, 2009. He met with Kevin Sharer, CEO of Amgen, on April 20, 2009, June 2, 2009, and July 7, 2009; with David Brennan, CEO of AstraZeneca, on May 8, 2009 and July 7, 2009; with Jeff Kindler, CEO and Chairman of Pfizer, on June 2, 2009 and July 7, 2009; and with Miles White, CEO of Abbott Laboratories, on June 2, 2009 and July 7, 2009. The CEOs were all board members of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association.Shortly after the July 7 meeting, the White House circulated an internal memo. In it the President agreed not to support any provision for Medicare prescription drug negotiations; drug re-importation; or the lowering of drug prices available through Medicare Parts D and B. In exchange, the drug industry would achieve $80 billion in cost cutting measures on its own and would marshal its resources to campaign in support of Obamacare.
So much for Obama’s promise to the American public to end “game playing” in Washington. No sooner had he entered the oval office, then he commenced game playing, inviting those he vilified during his campaign to meet in close quarters where he promised to keep for them their sacred cow, one of the largest corporate welfare plans in United States history, the no-negotiation provision in prescription drug bill, if they helped him pass his signature piece of legislation, Obamacare.
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This single episode is typical of the Obama Administration. The cynicism is thick. Promise the American people an end to a detested corporate welfare program while on the campaign trail, then violate their trust once in office by quietly making friends with those defined as enemies during the campaign and keeping the very program you promised to end. True to form, most recently, as he leaned over to outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Obama said in reference to prospective negotiations on reduction of American missile defenses (unaware of the open mic): “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.” Indeed, this President readily pledges to the American public what he thinks he must to get elected, then once in office, he views himself as free to do what he pleases unconstrained by his pledges.
Perhaps the American people will come to appreciate in time for the next election the reality at work. This President by word and deed is a chameleon who blends in with his surroundings as necessary to permit stealthy achievement of a hidden agenda antithetical to the best interests of the American people.
© 2012 Jonathan W. Emord - All Rights Reserved