After turning down an offer to take over as the film industry's top lobbyist, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) is now reportedly in line to captain the prescription drug industry's trade association.
For months Tauzin, 60, had been mentioned as the prime candidate to replace Jack Valenti at the Motion Picture Association of America. But just two weeks after Alan Holmer announced he would be stepping down as president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Tauzin has emerged as one of the top candidates, if not the top one, to replace Holmer.
Widespread media reports suggested the PhRMA offer had been made, and that the congressman, who is stepping down this year regardless, is taking the next few weeks to consider the deal.
Ken Johnson, Tauzin's spokesman, downplays the rumors, saying Tauzin "has not accepted a contract."
Jeff Trewhitt, a spokesman for PhRMA, declined to comment whether Tauzin is even a candidate to replace Holmer.
PhRMA, which represents about 100 drugmakers, including Pfizer, Eli Lilly & Co. and Johnson & Johnson, is one of the most influential lobbying organizations in Washington. From 1996 to 2002, the organization and its members spent more than $435 million lobbying Congress, the White House and federal regulators, according to Common Cause, a nonpartisan group that tracks lobbyists.
Most recently PhRMA was successful in keeping price controls out of the Medicare prescription drug bill.
Among the more controversial provisions in the Medicare legislation is the inability of the federal government to negotiate with drug firms on prices on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries.
"They were able to force Congress to ignore the elephant in the room," says Celia Wexler, director of policy at Common Cause. Congressional rules forbid lawmakers who leave for the private sector from lobbying Congress for one year, but given Tauzin's knowledge of his fellow legislators and the inner workings of Congress, he would be able to provide important expertise to PhRMA immediately, Wexler says.
Tauzin is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over many healthcare issues. The committee recently has been investigating the HealthSouth Corp. debacle and is looking into hospital billing practices.
Tauzin played a pivotal role on the House-Senate conference committee that designed the Medicare reform legislation signed into law by President Bush in December. That in conjunction with the PhRMA reports drew criticism from Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark.
"It is unconscionable and wrong that the man who led Republican efforts to pass one of the biggest boons to giant pharmaceutical companies in history is receiving a payoff in the form of a lucrative position as chief lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry," Clark says.