WASHINGTON - January 28 - Public Citizen today called for an investigation into whether U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), who had a key role in writing the Medicare prescription drug law, broke House ethics rules when negotiating a lucrative job with the drug industrys top lobbying group.
Tauzin has received an offer to represent the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the drug industrys main lobbying group, which was heavily involved in the crafting of recently passed legislation to create a prescription drug benefit under Medicare. The legislation contains key provisions beneficial to the drug industry; it subsidizes private insurers to provide prescription drug coverage to seniors thereby increasing demand for drugs, bars the Medicare administrator from bargaining for lower drug prices and effectively prohibits the reimportation of lower-priced drugs from Canada.
In a letter to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, Public Citizen asked officials to investigate whether Tauzin began negotiating for a job with PhRMA while crafting the legislation. If he did, he may have violated House conflict of interest rules. The job offer is rumored to be worth $2.5 million, likely the largest compensation package on record for anyone at a trade association.
"The record size of the PhRMA contract and the fact that the offer became public less than two months after the drug industry scored a major victory with this legislation raises serious questions about whether Rep. Tauzins actions were tainted," said Joan Claybrook, Public Citizens president. "While Rep. Tauzin was writing the bill, he put out the word that he was retiring from Congress and looking for new work. This doesnt pass the smell test."
Added Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizens Congress Watch, "It is distressing that Rep. Tauzin has negotiated private employment with a business interest that was so actively engaged in lobbying for the Medicare legislation. Apparently, the prescription drug bill was not only a windfall for the pharmaceutical industry, but also for several public officials involved in negotiating the measure."
Public Citizen in December filed an ethics complaint against Thomas Scully, former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who received a waiver from ethics laws, thereby allowing him to represent the Bush administration in discussions about the new drug bill while negotiating employment with three lobbying firms and two investment firms that had major stakes in the legislation.
If Tauzin takes the PhRMA job, that could subvert the Houses "revolving door" policy, which prohibits former members of Congress from directly lobbying their former colleagues for a year after leaving office. Even if Tauzin never picks up the phone to call a member, lawmakers who are approached by PhRMA representatives will know that PhRMAs requests ultimately are coming from Tauzin.
Tauzins job negotiations are proof of the need to tighten the Houses notoriously lax ethics rules. Under the rules, members are merely discouraged from negotiating employment with business interests involved in legislation but are not prohibited from doing so. So it may be determined that Tauzin broke no rules even if he did negotiate his new job while crafting the Medicare bill.
"Members of the public already have low confidence in the ethics of congressional lawmakers," Clemente said. "This is another scandal that will taint the image of Congress. The ethics committee needs to act to clean up its House."
Click here to view a copy of Public Citizens letter to the committee.