Congress should reject Obama's deal with big Pharma

Once upon a time, there was a guy who said this:

The system in Washington, D.C. is broken, rigged against middle-class Americans. Taking our country back requires more than just changing presidents. It requires changing the whole broken system. […] if we want real change, you can’t just negotiate with these special interests. You have to take their power away and return it to regular people.

The guy turned out to be a jerk in his personal life, but he was correct about the system being rigged because corporations have too much power in Washington. I was reminded of this while reading today’s article by David Kirkpatrick in the New York Times. (continues after the jump)

Kirkpatrick reports:

Pressed by industry lobbyists, White House officials on Wednesday assured drug makers that the administration stood by a behind-the-scenes deal to block any Congressional effort to extract cost savings from them beyond an agreed-upon $80 billion.

Drug industry lobbyists reacted with alarm this week to a House health care overhaul measure that would allow the government to negotiate drug prices and demand additional rebates from drug manufacturers.

In response, the industry successfully demanded that the White House explicitly acknowledge for the first time that it had committed to protect drug makers from bearing further costs in the overhaul. The Obama administration had never spelled out the details of the agreement.

“We were assured: `We need somebody to come in first. If you come in first, you will have a rock-solid deal,’ ” Billy Tauzin, the former Republican House member from Louisiana who now leads the pharmaceutical trade group, said Wednesday. “Who is ever going to go into a deal with the White House again if they don’t keep their word? You are just going to duke it out instead.”

A deputy White House chief of staff, Jim Messina, confirmed Mr. Tauzin’s account of the deal in an e-mail message on Wednesday night.

“The president encouraged this approach,” Mr. Messina wrote. “He wanted to bring all the parties to the table to discuss health insurance reform.”

Congressional Democrats should say “hell, no” to this deal. President Obama needs health care reform to pass this year. Congress should pass a bill containing reasonable cost-control measures (allowing reimportation of drugs from Canada and allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices). Then the president can decide whether his promise to the revolving-door Republican Billy Tauzin is so important that he must veto the health care overhaul.

Going to the mat to protect big Pharma’s profits would be incredibly unpopular and would undermine Obama’s long-term goal of keeping health care costs in check. I hope House Progressives are able to stand strong against this giveaway.

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  • When I covered Obama's

    first wonk speech on health care for the Iowa Independent during the Dem primary at the UI hospital, the one line that drew applause and struck me was, I paraphrase: “I will bring everyone to the table, inclding special interests, who will have a seat at the table if they are willing to negotiate, but will not buy a seat at the table.”

    Unfortunately, Obama’s actions fail to fulfill this metaphoric analogy.

    First, by everyone, he did not mean the single-payer folks, who not only were barred from the room but were arrested for entering as well. If anything, the single-payer proponents should, at the very least, been invited to the table, whether Obama intended to implement their ideas or not. Obama’s plan wants to meet several of the single-payer end goals, but wants to try do accomplish these through the private for-profit industry. Not going to happen.

    The problem where this metaphor really falls flat is that the health care special interests have bought the seats, at least a significant chunk, of the major players sitting at the table (e.g. Grassley and Baucus). My fear is that by the time a bill gets through Congress, people like me (the bottom rung of the middle class who can barely afford health care premiums as it is) will be paying the same, if not more on health care. This will hold true if a strong public option doesn’t make it through and/or the govt. wants to take health care benefits through employment.

    I certainly HOPE Obama has yet to show all of his cards and real reform passes, but I primarily blame Congress for botching this and the DC system we have in place that is run by special interests. I know it is hard to change this, but I would love to see Obama lay down the gauntlet.

    • I agree totally

      Not only were the single-payer people excluded, on the Senate Finance Committee the public-option people are being excluded.

      I think Obama has shown his cards. He just wasn’t willing to take on the powerful interests on this, or on climate change, or on financial industry reforms.