by Matt Taibbi
The drug industry's trade group plans to roll out a series of television advertisements in coming weeks specifically to support Senator Max Baucus's health care overhaul proposal, according to an industry official involved in the planning.
I've been completely out of the loop with the health care story these last week and half or so, out of touch actually with the entire earth (I've been on a deadline on another story), but upon returning to work today I began getting calls about some alarming maneuverings in congress. We're apparently finally seeing delivery of the Big Bribe that President Obama and Rahm Emanuel extracted from that pharmaceutical industry in exchange for dropping drug-pricing reform in the health care bill.
To recap: PhRMA, the lobbying arm of the pharmaceutical industry, earlier this year announced that it would be setting aside $150 million to pay for an ad campaign supporting the President's health care bill. The deal was apparently struck in July, after former Louisiana congressman and current PhRMA chief Billy Tauzin (Rod Blagojevich's underdog opponent in the upcoming semifinal match of the Corrupt Scumbag of the Century So Far tournament) met with Rahm and other Obama aides in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. Also in attendance were representatives of the usual panoply of awful medical corporations, including Abbott laboratories, Merck, and Pfizer. It was in this meeting that the White House agreed to sell out health care reform in exchange for a few bucks to fund the next couple of election cycles.
Tauzin, who has never been one for subtlety or finesse (he took his $2 million-a-year PhRMA job about ten seconds after he finished pushing through the Prescription Drug Benefit bill), stupidly later revealed some of the contents of that shady meeting, saying that the White House had "blessed" a plan involving the $150 million. He disclosed to reporters that he had extracted a promise from the White House to drop two important reforms: one, to allow the government to negotiate bulk rates for drugs in Medicare, and the other to permit the importation of cheap drugs from Canada (which was once an Obama campaign saw).
The only problem with this plan, from the White House's side, was that not all of the president's fellow Democrats played along. Specifically, Energy and Commerce chair Henry Waxman put a provision in his health care bill that allowed the government to negotiate lower rates. If Waxman's language were to be allowed to survive, it would queer the White House's deal.
So here's what started happening to kill Waxman's language. First of all, PhRMA started paying its bribe.
The $150 million it committed to support Obama's bill is now being rolled out in pro-reform ads, which are being aired mostly in the districts of freshman congressmen. The ads are cheesy, half-hearted tripe blandly supporting the weak-as-fuck remnants of Obama's health care plan, an example being this "Eight Ways Health Reform Matters To You" ad that salutes the end of coverage denials for those with pre-existing conditions.
Now we're also seeing pressure from a group of freshmen and Blue Dogs, who have composed a letter to a quartet of House Committee chairs requesting that the Waxman language be removed from the health care bill and replaced with the PhRMA language, which happens to be the language the White House is pushing and which will appear in the Baucus bill in the Senate. The pro-PhRMA language retains the preposterous government subsidy to the pharmaceutical industry in the form of laws banning Medicare from negotiating market rates. It is completely useless and of no possible social benefit to anyone except pharmaceutical companies, but this group still managed to get 60 people to sign this letter.
What does this letter say? Does it argue that the PhRMA language is better for America than the Waxman language? Does it say it will cost taxpayers less and provide cheaper drugs to more people? Hilariously, no. What it says is that this PhRMA language, while worse than the Waxman language, is not quite so bad as you think (it doesn't save as much as the Waxman language, but it still has a 50 percent price reduction, which isn't terrible!). Moreover, the letter says, substituting this language will help the bill get passed! Here's the actual language, addressed primarily to Waxman:
"Your efforts to remove this onerous burden on Medicare beneficiaries… are to be greatly commended. However the commitment by President Obama and the AARP to support legislation that would provide a 50 percent reduction is a dramatic step forward in helping fill the doughnut hole. Equally important, it moves us toward our goal of health care legislation."
In other words, your attempt to put in a real reform is cool and all, but PhRMA has us by the balls, so help us out.