The revolving door

How can we be certain the government is putting the people first when the `revolving door' continues to spin?

Published: Tuesday, January 4, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 3, 2005 at 10:17 p.m.

Who would stick around Congress if a job paying millions of dollars is waiting in the private sector? Not Rep. Billy Tauzin, a Louisiana Republican who announced recently that he's going to become president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America when he leaves office this month.

His salary wasn't announced to the public, but The New York Times reported that "people at other trade groups said they believed that Mr. Tauzin would receive $2 million a year or more."

That's a pretty healthy raise for a 12-term congressman who currently makes $158,100 a year (scheduled to go up to $162,052 in January).

How did Tauzin get such a lucrative job? It may have been because of his winning personality, but more likely it had something to do with the fact that the pharmaceutical industry knows him quite well. Tauzin has helped make the drug companies quite profitable, so it's only

fitting that they reciprocate.

How did a congressman who most Americans have never heard of bring riches to pharmaceuticals? Good question.

It seems Tauzin, as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a key conference committee, had a major role in writing the new Medicare law that gave the pharmaceuticals pretty much everything they wanted. The new law bans the federal government from negotiating with manufacturers for lower drug prices for Medicare recipients and contains no provisions for controls or regulation of drug prices.

Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark, D-Calif., summed it up this way: "As a member of Congress, Billy negotiated a large payout to the pharmaceutical industry by the federal government. He's now about to receive one of the largest salaries ever paid to any advocate by an industry."

Tauzin wasn't the only key figure in the negotiations to jump ship. Thomas A. Scully, who was the main negotiator for the Bush administration on the Medicare bill, left the government almost immediately for a law career that includes lobbying for major drug companies.

The only restriction on Tauzin's activities is that he cannot personally lobby lawmakers on behalf of the pharmaceutical association until he has been out of office for one year. But he can easily delegate those responsibilities to subordinates while he continues to socialize with his former colleagues, and get involved in raising contributions for political activities and campaigns.

Tauzin is the latest - albeit one of the most blatant - examples of the "revolving door" between government and the special interests in Washington.

Many members of Congress see their service in elective office as primarily a stepping stone to lucrative careers with lobbying firms and other corporations and organizations doing business with the government.

The American public can never feel confident that Congress and the executive branch are putting the people's needs first as long as the revolving door keeps turning. That's likely to be quite a while, since no significant reform efforts are under way.

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