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Paul Blumenthal of Sunlight Foundation on Obama/Tauzin PhRMA deal w/ Update

Update: Link to Black Agenda Report post by Margaret Kimberley, Freedom Rider: Tauzin Tossed Under the Bus, added below.

Today's Fresh Air has an interview with the author of The Legacy of Billy Tauzin: The White House-PhRMA Deal, part of the Sunlight Foundation's Making Government Transparent and Accountable mission.

Warning: Not safe for controlling high blood pressure or desire to procure pitchforks and torches.

It is not all new news, but bringing Sunlight Foundation's new information about WH visitors and other details together in one piece is highly pertinent to what happened during Obama's excellent adventure with Big PhRMA and Big Health Insurance and is happening today.

Obama has been secretive about his behind closed doors negotiations from the beginning. By working so closely with Tauzin, Obama showed he did not mean much of his own campaign rhetoric about lobbyists' roles in governing. Obama demanded of Tauzin that he and other PhRMA people work solely with Sen. Max Baucus; they were to speak with no other Congressional representatives. Tauzin simply continued to implement the "good works" he had done for PhRMA in pushing through the Bush Medicare Prescription plan just before he resigned from the House to take on his new job as PhRMA lobbyist in chief.

In the 2008 campaign, Obama declared his intention to include all stakeholders as he sought to reform the nation’s health care system, but also supported key Democratic health reform policies. Among these were several that targeted the pharmaceutical industry: Allowing re-importation of drugs from first world countries with lower drug prices and providing Medicare with negotiating authority over prescription drug prices in the recently enacted Part D program. These weren’t just promises, Obama had already voted for both of them as a senator in 2007. (Roll Call Vote 132 and Roll Call Vote 150.)

Set to carry out this agenda were two Capitol Hill veterans, schooled in the monied Washington culture, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and deputy chief of staff Jim Messina. Emanuel was a former fundraiser, Clinton administration official, investment banker and member of the Democratic leadership in Congress. Messina was the former campaign manager and chief of staff to the powerful Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus. Both were known for their unparalleled legislative abilities.

Because of Obama’s decision to develop a plan operating through the legislative process, members of Congress also played key roles. Early on, the pharmaceutical companies were told to deal directly with Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus. Baucus would be the vehicle for the deal worked out behind the scenes by the White House and PhRMA.


Tauzin’s job change became fodder for a campaign ad that then presidential candidate Barack Obama ran in the spring of 2008 simply titled “Billy.” It featured the candidate, sleeves rolled up, talking to a salon of gasping Americans about the ways of Washington. “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 a year.” The screen fades to black to inform the viewer that, “Barack Obama is the only candidate who refuses Washington lobbyist money,” while the candidate continues his lecture, “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.”

How's that for hypocrisy?

How's that for a Corporatist president?

The Fresh Air site has the interview; it runs about 25 minutes.

Today, Blumenthal asks if the new Obama outline will scotch the PhRMA deal. Closing graf:

After health care negotiations stalled in January, PhRMA President and CEO Billy Tauzin abruptly resigned. Media reports on his resignation have varied from differences in style that displeased the Board of Directors and displeasure with the failure of the deal struck with the White House to be adopted after a $100 million-plus advertising binge in support of the legislation. Since Tauzin’s departure, board members have continued the refrain that they will back the Senate legislation that contains the $80 billion cost cutting cap agreed to in the deal. PhRMA has yet to release a statement on the White House’s apparent abandonment of the previously agreed upon deal.

Well, that's pretty interesting....

Update: Margaret Kimberley writes at Black Agenda Report:

When the Obama White House played “Let's Make a Deal” with the drug industry, former Louisiana congressman Billy Tauzin was Big Pharma's chief negotiator. Tuazin blew the whistle on the White House's under-the-table machinations, to the president's great embarrassment. Now Tauzin's out in the cold, and Obama's health care scheme seems sunk, but Big Pharma is awash in profits.

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Submitted by lambert on

So, instead of negotiating down, from, say, Medicare for All immediately to Medicare for All by progressively lowered eligibility, we're negotiating upward from a crooked backroom deal to a non-solution.