GOP releases new documents on White House deal with PhRMA

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Emails among PhRMA staff and the White House show that the talks were often terse, especially at points when the $80 billion deal appeared to be in jeopardy. PhRMA lobbyists were at times frustrated with Jim Messina, then White House deputy chief of staff, now President Obama’s campaign manager.

One PhRMA lobbyist, upset that he couldn’t reach Messina directly, referred to Messina’s assistant as his “butt boy.”

Nevertheless, the White House ultimately rewarded PhRMA for being the first healthcare industry group to come forward and reach a deal to support healthcare reform.

The newly released emails offer few new details on the substance of the agreement: PhRMA agreed to support the bill and to absorb $80 billion in cuts to help pay for the overhaul, and Democrats agreed not to pursue certain policies that the industry strongly opposed.

The Obama administration vowed not to seek price negotiations in the Medicare prescription drug benefit, and said it would block efforts to import cheaper drugs from overseas.

The emails do, however, indicate that the administration aggressively sought PhRMA’s backing, and worked hard to reassure the trade group that the deal would remain intact. PhRMA worked closely with then-chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and Nancy-Ann DeParle, who led the White House Office of Health Reform.

“Rahm … completely understands our problem with the process, and our frustration with the lack of direct discourse inside the White House,” one PhRMA employee wrote in May 2009. “Rahm's calling Nancy Ann and knows Billy is going to talk to Nancy Ann tonight. Rahm will make it clear that PhRMA needs a direct line ofcommunication, separate and apart from any other coalition.”

Billy Tauzin, a former member of Congress who was PhRMA’s president at the time of the negotiations, pushed his industry to quickly ink a deal with the White House, rather than let the process drag on and have to beat back unwelcome proposals.

The GOP report is online here, and Republicans have also posted copies of the emails they obtained.