Change Watch: White House's secret deal with Big Pharma

Until this week, the most tellingly cynical moment in Washington's two millennium struggle to deny Americans access to adequate health care came in 2003 when the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act was adopted with a provision that prohibited the government from negotiating on behalf of seniors for lower drug prices (the final bill passed the upper body with 76 votes, so you can stop blaming the Republicans).

That was then. This week came the news that the Obama White House worked out a deal -- in secret -- that accepts at face value the pharmaceutical industry’s celebrated pledge not to charge us for $80 billion worth of drugs over the next 10 years and promises not to bother the drug companies with any further threats to profits.

“Eighty billion is the max — no more or less,” said Billy Tauzin, the chief lobbyist for the drug makers," writes Gail Collins in the Times.
In a past incarnation, he was the congressman who shepherded the Bush plan for Medicare coverage of prescription drugs through the House, in a form that was very, very kind to his future employers. He was also — is this a world of coincidences or what? — a co-founder of the Blue Dog Democrats.

The drug deal, although blessed by the White House, actually emerged from the black hole which is otherwise known as the Senate Finance Committee. The chairman is Max Baucus of Montana, whose powers and responsibilities on health care are so great that they require the political genius and moral fiber of a Rocky Mountain Lincoln. Unfortunately, nobody has ever once described Baucus in anything remotely close to those terms.

Baucus has set up a special bipartisan negotiating committee on health care with his pal Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican. He is hoping that if Grassley signs off on a bill, other members of his party will follow. Grassley has said he will not sign off on anything unless a whole lot of other Republicans accept it first.

You will notice that these two plans are not really the same.

The senators on this special committee hail from Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico, Iowa, Maine and Wyoming. This was quite a coup on Baucus’s part, since you have to work really hard to put together six states that represent only 2.77 percent of the population.
Part of our problem, yours and mine, is that we are far too generous in our assessment of our leaders. Senators, representatives, justices, cabinet members, presidents -- after all we've been through since Nixon was driven from office, we still imagine we are led by other than political hacks and petty thieves. And third rate crooks and hacks, at that. If you think I'm overstating, take a look at this performance on the floor of the U.S. Senate by the aforementioned distinguished senator from Iowa, the Honorable Charles Grassley:
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The usual reaction to an episode like this is to assume that the offending pol is talking down, that he thinks the people he represents are idiots who need to be treated like third graders. That Grassley is one of the Senate's leaders makes it harder (and scarier) to accept what is more likely the truth: that he's an idiot.

Update: Internal Memo Confirms Big Giveaways In White House Deal With Big Pharma (Ryan Grim; Huffington Post 2009-08-13)are

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