Boehner blasts PhRMA’s Tauzin over healthcare deal

The pharmaceutical industry's trade group has bowed to bullying by Democrats and sold out its members and the public, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) charges in a strongly worded letter to a former GOP congressman who helms the organization.

“Appeasement rarely works as a conflict resolution strategy,” Boehner wrote Monday to Billy Tauzin, the former Republican House member from Louisiana who has been president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) since 2005.

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The House GOP leader takes Tauzin and PhRMA to task for striking a deal with Senate Democrats and the White House under which the group agreed to take an $80 billion hit on behalf of President Barack Obama’s campaign for healthcare reform.

“We’re at a pivotal moment in the debate and everyone’s jockeying for position,” PhRMA Senior Vice President Ken Johnson said in response to the letter. “Everyone has an opinion and everyone has the right to an opinion.

“We remained convinced that we’re doing the right thing for patients and for our country,” Johnson said. “We have been working for more than a year to advance comprehensive healthcare reform.”

Boehner’s frustration with Tauzin and PhRMA seeps out of practically every word of his letter. Outrage has been swelling in Republican ranks for months, meanwhile, as PhRMA and other erstwhile GOP allies in the healthcare and business community continue to support Obama’s push for healthcare reform — or at least refuse to aid Republican efforts to scuttle it.

“When a bully asks for your lunch money, you may have no choice but to fork it over. But cutting a deal with the bully is a different story, particularly if the ‘deal’ means helping him steal others’ money as the price of protecting your own,” says the letter, which Boehner forwarded to the chief executives of PhRMA’s member companies.

“The ‘bully’ in this case is Big Government. At your behest, PhRMA has chosen to accommodate a Washington takeover of healthcare at the expense of the American people in hopes of securing favorable treatment and future profits. It’s a short-sighted bargain that leaves your own customers and employees behind,” Boehner wrote.

PhRMA has not endorsed any of the healthcare bills pending in Congress, but it remains a powerful, if unexpected, industry ally for the White House. At a minimum, Obama has neutralized an enemy. Were PhRMA to endorse a healthcare bill, the group’s stated willingness to spend up to $150 million on a pro-healthcare-reform advertising campaign would be a boon to Obama.

The deal between Obama and PhRMA has generated waves of controversy since the president announced it in June.

Other than a vow from the pharmaceutical group to offer discounted medicines to seniors during a gap in their Medicare drug coverage, the full terms of the arrangement have not been revealed. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) opened the talks with PhRMA before the White House joined in.

Tauzin told The New York Times this month that the White House promised to help PhRMA fight against Democratic efforts to seek deeper cuts in spending on prescription drugs, such as allowing Medicare to directly negotiate their prices.

The White House denied the quid pro quo, but that has not quelled the frustration of Democratic lawmakers and liberal activists who believe Obama made a deal with the devil. Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate uniformly said they are not bound by the agreement between the White House, PhRMA and Baucus.

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The Democratic posturing against the deal is a clear sign that Tauzin erred, Boehner wrote. “Big Government is changing the terms … because it can.”

To be sure, PhRMA has not offered its unqualified support for Democratic healthcare reform bills. The legislation approved by three House committees would make much deeper cuts into the drug industry’s Medicare and Medicaid funding, for example, leading PhRMA to denounce the bill.

PhRMA’s not the only group to forge a deal with the White House and Baucus. The American Hospital Association (AHA) and two other major hospital groups struck a deal in July to give up $155 billion in payments.

PhRMA, the AHA, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the American Medical Association, the Advanced Medical Technology Association and the Service Employees International Union have vowed to trim $2 trillion over 10 years in national healthcare spending.

Even the health insurance industry, led by AHIP, has stayed in the game with Democrats, despite its intense opposition to the creation of a public option that would compete with its members.