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Inside Politics

Pelosi rips GOP lawmaker on job offer

Dem charges 'abuse of power'

From Ted Barrett
CNN Washington Bureau

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called it
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called it "inappropriate" for a GOP lawmaker to entertain a job offer from the pharmaceutical industry.

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Billy Tauzin
Nancy Pelosi

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House's top Democrat, Nancy Pelosi of California, strongly criticized a Republican lawmaker Wednesday for his consideration of a lucrative job offer from the pharmaceutical industry -- an offer that came weeks after he helped to negotiate a sweeping Medicare bill that established a prescription drug benefit for America's seniors.

Pelosi called it "inappropriate" and an "abuse of power" for Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, R-Louisiana, to consider the offer from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing Association (PhRMA), one of the city's most powerful lobbies, to head up the organization. The job would pay him more than $1 million a year, according to sources.

"Seniors who are wondering why the pharmaceutical companies made out so well in this bill at their expense, need only to look at this example of abuse of power and conflict of interest," Pelosi said at a news conference.

Tauzin won't announce his decision on whether to accept the offer for several weeks, his spokesman, Ken Johnson, has said. Privately, some GOP aides say the job offer presents a public relations problem for the party.

As chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Tauzin oversees the Food and Drug Administration and the pharmaceutical industry. He was one of a handful of lawmakers who hammered out an agreement on the contentious Medicare legislation.

While the idea of a prescription drug benefit for senior citizens had broad bipartisan support, many Democrats criticized the final bill, arguing it would hurt Medicare and help private interests.

Pelosi noted that former Center for Medicare and Medicaid Service chief Tom Scully, the White House point person on the Medicare bill, recently left his post to work for law firms that represent pharmaceutical and other health-care interests.

"So we have a situation where the lead administration person on the bill and the lead manager on the bill in the House of Representatives are going to work for the pharmaceutical companies," Pelosi said. "I think it would be important to the American people to know when the negotiations for these positions began."

Thinking it over

Johnson has repeatedly denied a conflict exists, saying Tauzin was not approached about the job until the Medicare bill was already signed into law in December by President Bush.

"No one at any time approached him during the Medicare debate," Johnson said earlier this week. Tauzin, according to Johnson, was seeking the counsel of GOP leaders on what to do.

Pelosi's comments came at a news conference with Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle , D-South Dakota, at which they announced their intention to repeal a section of the law that pays HMOs billions of dollars to provide prescription drug coverage.

The job offer has also come under fire from some government watchdog groups who say it highlights the often close relationship between lawmakers and lobbyists.

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