How the drug lobby snared Obama

Big Pharma's firing of Billy Tauzin hardly seems fair, after all the damage he did to Obama and healthcare reform

Published February 13, 2010 12:13AM (EST)

Billy Tauzin, Washington's epitome of the legislator-turned-lobbyist, resigned from his job as PhRMA’s chief hustler this week. According to the New York Times, Tauzin surrendered his lavish expense account and $2 million salary because his bosses in the pharmaceutical industry believed he had somehow failed to safeguard their interests sufficiently while killing real healthcare reform. So he has gone off to pursue other interests, as they always say, but let us note that his firing reeks of ingratitude. Not only did Tauzin protect the industry from hundreds of billions of dollars in potential cost savings for consumers and taxpayers, but he managed to draw the Obama White House (meaning chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and his deputy Jim Messina) into a deal that discredited the reform effort -- and damaged the president's own reputation.

As legislative politics grind out product, the daily details sometimes obscure the larger reality. Perhaps in honor of Tauzin's departure, the Sunlight Foundation's Paul Blumenthal explains here how the healthcare debacle unfolded, with special attention to the lobbyist's dominant role and the supporting parts played by Emanuel, Messina, Sens. Baucus and Reid, and assorted bit players. It is a grim story that begins with a decision in the White House to abandon several of Obama’s central campaign promises on healthcare, and concludes with the president's public admission that "it’s an ugly process and it looks like there are a bunch of back room deals."


By Joe Conason

Joe Conason is the editor in chief of To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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