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Congressman under fire for job offer

Drug industry offer follows Tauzin's work on Medicare law

From Ted Barrett
CNN Washington Bureau

Louisiana Republican Rep. Billy Tauzin is considering his options, a spokesman says.
Louisiana Republican Rep. Billy Tauzin is considering his options, a spokesman says.

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Billy Tauzin
Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Republican Party

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A congressman who played a leading role in drafting legislation that introduced a prescription drug benefit to Medicare is under fire for considering a job offer from the pharmaceutical industry -- which stands to benefit from the new law.

Louisiana Rep. Billy Tauzin, a Republican, spent months negotiating the bill to overhaul Medicare, often meeting in the basement of the Capitol with a small group of lawmakers, administration officials and industry groups.

One of those groups was Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, PhRMA, which has offered him the leadership job. That post, sources say, would pay more than $1 million a year.

PhRMA represents drug and biotechnology companies, with the goal of "winning advocacy for public policies that encourage the discovery of life-saving and life-enhancing new medicines," according to its Web site.

Joan Claybrook, who heads the left-leaning government watchdog group Public Citizen, said there is nothing illegal about the job offer or its acceptance, but that it sends the wrong signal about the way Washington should work.

"This idea of a revolving door, purchasing members of Congress for over a million dollars a year, is antithetical to the public interest," she said.

A Tauzin spokesman disputed any suggestion of a conflict.

"Why should there be?" said Ken Johnson, who described Tauzin as "honorable."

"No one at any time approached him during the Medicare debate," Johnson said, adding that his boss had not decided whether to take the job.

But some of Tauzin's colleagues, including Republicans, believe the job offer could present a problem, congressional aides said.

"This guy was a key architect of the Medicare benefit that everyone agrees was a gift to the pharmaceutical industry," said one Democratic House aide who worked on the Medicare bill. "This is such a blatant slap in the face of people who think the bill is bad for seniors and good for the industry."

Although not as sharp in their comments, some Republican aides said they worried about a potential public relations problem. During the election season, supporters of the Medicare bill -- signed into law by President Bush despite widespread Democratic objections -- are telling seniors the measure was written in their best interests.

"It doesn't look very good," one top GOP House leadership aide said. Despite the concern, the aide said, GOP leaders probably won't ask Tauzin not to take the job. "It's not going to be optically too pleasing."

Tauzin is a 13-term member and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has direct oversight of the Food and Drug Administration and the pharmaceutical industry. Johnson said the congressman was at home in Louisiana considering his options

Johnson said no one knew at the time that PhRMA's chief, Alan F. Holmer, would quit soon after the bill became law, though industry sources said his departure had been widely rumored for more than a year. If he accepts the job, Tauzin will replace Holmer.

Tauzin will travel to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, this weekend "to seek guidance and counsel" from GOP leaders at a scheduled congressional leadership retreat, Johnson said.

"It will be several weeks before an announcement," he said.

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