Emails reveal secret Obamacare deal with drug cos

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Philip Klein

In a June 2009 email, President Obama’s point person on health care promised the pharmaceutical industry it would be protected against efforts to allow cheap drugs to be re-imported from Canada, because drug lobbyists had been “constructive” in their secret negotiations with White House officials.

The email is just one of thousands that House Republicans mined through as part of a more than a year-long investigation into Obama’s closed-door deal making with PhRMA, the drug industry lobbying group.

Though it was previously known that Obama had cut a deal with drug companies, a memo released today by the House Energy and Commerce Committee provides more specific details than have been previously reported.

The disclosures provide further evidence that once in office, Obama tossed aside his promises to be transparent and stand up to special interest groups.

Between May and August 2009, as the White House officials and key players in Congress were formulating the national health care law, the Obama administration held ongoing negotiations with PhRMA to secure industry support for the health care law as well as other policy concessions.

Nancy DeParle, then director of the White House Office of Health Reform, wrote the following email to PhRMA’s chief lobbyist on June 3, 2009: “Yes – I pushed this to everyone (Messina, Rahm) is in Egypt with POTUS but Phil Schrillo, Dana Singlser and I made decision, based on how constructive you guys have been, to oppose importation on this bill.”

At the time, Rahm Emanuel was White House Chief of Staff, Jim Messina was deputy chief of staff, Phil Schrillo was Obama’s legislative affairs director and Dana Singlser was his special assistant to the president for legislative affairs.

That September, top PhRMA lobbyist Bryant Hall reported in an email that he “had a good call w Messina,” and wrote: “Confidential: WH is working on some very explicit language on importation to kill it in health care reform. This has to stay quiet.”

Drug re-importation never made it into the final legislation.

As part of the final deal, PhRMA agreed to support health care legislation, spend millions on ads promoting it, and agree to $80 billion in savings and taxes to help finance the bill. 

In exchange, PhRMA not only ended up with a law that promised to provide it with millions of new customers, but protected it against policies contemplated by Democrats that would have been harmful to their profits, such as introducing a government plan into the Medicare prescription drug program, allowing rebates for drug purchases through the program and drug re-importation.

Taken together, the emails paint a picture of insider deal making with a powerful special interest – something that stands in stark contrast to Obama’s campaign pledges.

In 2008, Obama ran an ad titled “Billy,” blasting then PhRMA president Billy Tauzin and the art of deal making in Washington. “I don’t want to learn how to play the game better, I want to put an end to the game playing,” Obama vowed.

Yet months into his presidency, Obama cut a deal with Tauzin’s lobbying group, and did so behind closed doors – a violation of his pledge to broadcast all health care negotiations on C-SPAN.

Read the GOP memo and supporting emails here.

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