Emanuel talks to drug industry, a frequent foe

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), a strong proponent of prescription-drug reimportation, entered the lion’s den this week when he addressed executives at Johnson & Johnson, a leader in the U.S. pharmaceutical industry.

Emanuel and Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) spoke to 20 top executives in the Capitol’s basement Tuesday morning.
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Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.): The drug industry is subsidized twice, with tax incentives and profit margins.


Emanuel pulled no punches.

“While we need to deal with money for research and development, we need to deal with costs American people are paying for drugs,” Emanuel told his audience, adding that senior citizens in his congressional district did not understand why drug prices continued to rise by as much as 40 percent in a month.

He said he regularly hears complaints while holding office hours on weekends at supermarkets in his district.

“The American people are the ATM for the drug companies,” he said.

After Emanuel gave his presentation, he took questions. He said the executives were concerned about the enormous research and development costs needed to create new drugs.

Emanuel argued that the drug industry is subsidized twice — once in the development process, when companies get a tax credit for 50 percent of research and development costs, and again when the drugs are sold at marked-up prices.

He also said he would support a permanent 100 percent R&D tax credit in exchange for reduction in prices.

“If you think the current deal is going to last, you just bought yourselves a bridge over the Tigris River,” Emanuel said, referring to the river that flows through Baghdad.

Emanuel’s presentation was scheduled for 30 minutes but lasted for an hour.

Corzine, a potential gubernatorial candidate, visited the suits at Johnson & Johnson, which is headquartered in New Brunswick, N.J., for about 15 minutes, his spokesman said. He talked about judicial nominations, reimportation and other issues.

Meanwhile, Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.) plans to deliver a letter today to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) signed by 219 members urging the Speaker to schedule a vote on legislation allowing the reimportation of prescription drugs.

Gutknecht will hold a press conference today at 10:30 a.m. with Emanuel and Reps. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) calling on Hastert to act on the bill.

The pharmaceutical industry and the White House strongly oppose the Gutknecht legislation.

The Pharmaceutical Market Access Act has 105 co-sponsors. When the bill easily passed the House in 2003, it had only 42 co-sponsors, according to Gutknecht spokesman Bryan Anderson. Among the co-sponsors this time around is Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.), who voted against the legislation in 2003.

Despite support from a majority of the House, Anderson said Gutknecht is not yet contemplating a discharge petition to force a floor vote.

“That’s a pretty extreme measure,” Anderson said. “A number of people have mentioned that possibility. At this point, that’s one of a number of strategies.”

Two bipartisan groups of senators are working to pass a reimportation bill. Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who have introduced two different versions of reimportation legislation, have started to discuss the possibility of merging their bills.

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