Once Obama's target, lobbyist Tauzin now his pet 

White House visitor logs dumped late in the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve show that Billy Tauzin, the top lobbyist for the prescription drug industry and once a favorite target of Barack Obama, visited the White House at least 11 times in Obama's first six months in office.

The White House's open door for Tauzin, whom candidate Obama attacked as the embodiment of the revolving door and the corrupt collusion between politicians and industry, further dismantles the myth of Obama as the scourge of special interests. It also bolsters the conclusion that health care "reform" has become a boondoggle for the health industry, especially pharmaceutical companies.

During the presidential primary, in the spring of 2008, Obama ran a campaign ad aimed directly at Tauzin, chief executive officer of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. In the ad, titled "Billy," Obama tells a small gathering of seniors:

"The pharmaceutical industry wrote into the prescription drug plan that Medicare could not negotiate with drug companies. And you know what, the chairman of the committee who pushed the law through went to work for the pharmaceutical industry making $2 million a year. Imagine that. That's an example of the same old game-playing in Washington. I don't want to learn how to play the game better. I want to put an end to the game-playing."

But Obama has played the game, and Tauzin was one of the first players he picked for his team. White House visitor logs show that between Feb. 4 and July 22, Tauzin visited his office an average of once every 15 days -- about as frequently as Tauzin probably collects that generous paycheck candidate Obama derided. We don't know how often Tauzin visited after July, because of the ad hoc nature of White House visitor log releases.

Candidate Obama was correct to hold up Tauzin as the poster boy for special interests and the revolving door. Tauzin served 25 years in Congress, switching from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party just months after Republicans took control of Congress. Soon, Tauzin was chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he played a central role in creating the Medicare prescription drug benefit, a corporate-welfare program benefiting health insurers and drugmakers.

As candidate Obama explained, Tauzin then cashed out, going on the payroll of the industry he had just forced the taxpayers to subsidize.

And as far as special-interest lobbies go, PhRMA may be the champion. With $20.2 million in lobbying spending in the first nine months of this year, PhRMA outpaces every other single-industry group by millions.

If you include lobbying spending by individual companies, the pharmaceutical industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, spent $199 million on lobbying in the first three quarters of last year -- far more than any other industry, and more than health insurers, hospitals and doctors, combined.

Look at the Senate health care bill Obama is backing, and you see the fruits of Tauzin's White House access and the millions the industry spent on lobbying: Among other subsidies, the bill preserves the very government favor candidate Obama attacked -- that Medicare subsidizes prescription drugs but is prohibited by law from trying to get lower prices.

The bill also expands subsidies for drugs, grants lengthy monopolies to some complex drugs, continues the ban on reimporting drugs and hinders over-the-counter drugs that try to compete with prescription drugs. Many of these goodies were promised Tauzin in a West Wing visit over the summer, which the L.A. Times was the first to report.

Tauzin wasn't the only PhRMA lobbyist to visit the White House. Democratic lobbyist Steve Elmendorf, who served as chief of staff under then-Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., represents PhRMA as well as drugmaker Medicines Co. He visited the White House at least five times.

Another PhRMA hired gun, David Castagnetti, formerly chief of staff to Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, has visited the White House at least four times. Castagnetti's other drug industry clients include Abbott Laboratories, AstraZeneca, Forest Laboratories and Merck.

Contrast this record with Obama's rhetoric from the beginning of his campaign, when he attacked "the lobbyists and the special interests who've turned our government into a game only they can afford to play." This talk, and the ad attacking Tauzin, didn't scare off the industry, which proceeded to give more to Obama's campaign than to any other politician in history. And clearly, the rhetoric hasn't made Tauzin feel unwelcome at the Obama White House.

Timothy P. Carney, The Examiner's lobbying editor, can be reached at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. He writes an op-ed column that appears on Friday.

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Timothy P. Carney

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