The Medicare Drug Bill: Democrats Fold

In a stunning development today, the WaPo is reporting that Congressional Democrats have admitted openly that the new drug bill has no teeth because they were afraid big pharmaceutical corporations wouldn’t like it.

Before taking control of the House last week, Democratic leaders briefly considered proposing a new government-run prescription drug program as a way to reduce seniors’ drug costs, according to Democratic aides and lawmakers involved in the deliberations.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her allies chose a far less ambitious plan — to require the government to negotiate for lower Medicare drug prices — that will come to a vote today. They stepped back largely out of concern that the pharmaceutical industry would stall a complex change, denying them a quick victory on a top consumer-oriented priority, aides say.

***

To strengthen their position, drug firms and their trade groups have been transforming their Washington operations by hiring top Democratic lobbyists to gain access to new committee chairmen, bolstering Democratic political donations and spending millions on public relations campaigns to overcome an image, indicated in recent surveys, that the industry puts profits ahead of patients.

***

The industry worked closely with the Republican Congress to shape the Medicare prescription drug program, which included a provision barring the government from negotiating with the pharmaceutical industry for lower prices. In the three-year run-up to passage, industry lobbyists poured more than $6 million into both Republican and Democratic campaign coffers, dispatched an army of more than 800 lobbyists to Capitol Hill and quietly funded seniors organizations and patient advocacy groups that opposed Democratic alternatives.

Democrats opposed the legislation, but now that they have a chance to rewrite the law, they are pressing for what party leaders concede is only a minor alteration. “This is a first step,” said Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

eRobin at Fact-esque has a post up that explains the change and debunks the opposition (yes, as weak as it is the Right is still fighting it tooth-and-nail) better than I could hope to. That opposition is a concern but what’s more of a concern to me is the way the Democrats are willing to lie down for Big Pharma’s lobbyists for political reasons. It’s another disturbing sign, along with others, that they’re not willing to risk their pool of corporate contributions to make sure we get a decent bill.

Many of us, myself included, have been accusing the Democrats of cowardice for years. While admitting that as long as they were in the minority and the Republicans were acting like Imperial Romans there was little they could do to stop the madness, the fact remains that they often acted like whipped dogs even when they had absolutely nothing to lose. It now appears that it got to be a habit with them.

Many of us thought things would change now that they’re in power – and with a significant mandate. In the press and around the left blogosphere people were expressing hope that now things would finally change. I suspected that that was a forlorn hope. I’ve said it before and I’ll no doubt say it again: as long as the corporate puppydog DLC runs the party, and it will as long as campaigns aren’t publicly-funded and instead rely on corporate contributions, the Democrats will continue to function as the Republican-Lite party, the GOP without horns and a pitchfork.

Personally, I don’t think that’s good enough.

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