Health Inc.

PhRMA Chief Tauzin's Resignation Shows Industry Divisions On Overhaul

Billy Tauzin's career came to embody the revolving-door between public office and private-sector paychecks. The former Louisiana congressman chaired a House panel that oversees health care before leaving office and becoming the nation's top drug lobbyist. But, news that he will resign at the end of June from his $2-million-a-year post as the president of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of American suggests Tauzin's landing may not be so soft after all.

PhRMA's Billy Tauzin. i i

Billy Tauzin, president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, speaks at a news conference in 2005, his first year on the job. He just announced he will resign at the end of June. Matt Slocum/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Matt Slocum/AP
PhRMA's Billy Tauzin.

Billy Tauzin, president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, speaks at a news conference in 2005, his first year on the job. He just announced he will resign at the end of June.

Matt Slocum/AP

The official reason for the break-up is that Tauzin wants to pursue "other interests." But, it appears he may also be on the outs with some of the companies he represents in Washington. Reports say some second guessing about top lobbyist's leadership began within the industry after he incorrectly calculated that a health overhaul was inevitable, and struck deals with Democratic lawmakers.

Before Democrats took power, the Obama campaign had slammed Tauzin in T.V. advertisements as a practitioner of the "same old game playing in Washington." But, when the administration sought industry cooperation to keep its health overhaul ambitions aloft, Tauzin became an ally.

Some PhRMA board members apparently felt he was too buddied-up with Democrats. He cut a deal with the White House to support the health overhaul and cut $80 billion in drug spending, so long as Democrats would protect the industry from additional losses. He also agreed to spend more than $100 million on pro-overhaul ads.

Those White House negotiations had repercussions for everyone involved. President Obama angered congressional liberals for letting the industry off the hook and took flak for cutting "closed-door deals" after promising to conduct the business of reform in public view. After Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., won an upset election that stalled the overhaul push, Tauzin's once-celebrated dealmaking appeared overly generous.

The alliance with Democrats was a reversal for the pharmaceutical lobby. Since at least 1990, the drug industry had favored Republican candidates according to OpenSecrets.org, but in the last election cycle their campaign contributions were evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the Republican House minority leader, sent Tauzin an angry letter about the industry's support for the health overhaul, saying, "At your behest, PhRMA has chosen to accommodate a Washington takeover of health care at the expense of the American people..."

News reports also raise questions about Tauzin's power and influence as one of Washington's iconic power brokers. Though he wasn't the first or the last public official to lobby his former colleagues, he had become one of the most visible.

However, contrary to the view that Tauzin's wheeling and dealing did him in, Politico is reporting that some industry insiders say it was actually his lack of participation in negotiations that caused PhRMA board members to turn on him. One lobbyist told reporters, "Nothing changes on the PhRMA deal [with the White House] because the secret is that they weren't talking to him anyway."

Tauzin was diagnosed with intestinal cancer in 2004, before leaving Congress, but recovered after treatment. Tauzin rejected speculation that a cancer recurrence could have contributed to his decision to leave PhRMA, saying in a statement, "My health is excellent and I look forward to exciting new challenges ahead."

Weaver is a reporter for Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit news service.

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