Little more than a year after the recently passed Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, which gives seniors prescription drug coverage, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) became the second high-ranking government official to move into a high-level private-sector job involving the drug industry.
Last week the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America announced Tauzin, who served in Congress for 24 years and was a principal author of the Medicare law, will become its president and chief executive officer on Jan. 3, one day after his term in Congress ends. Tauzin, 61, succeeds Alan Holmer, 55.
Federal law forbids Tauzin from lobbying Congress directly for one year, but others can lobby for him. PhRMA said the job is not a reward for Tauzin's work on the Medicare law, which some Democrats called a gift to the drug industry because it prohibits the government from negotiating prices with drug marketers.
During the past 15 years, Tauzin raised more than $218,000 in his campaign account from drug companies, according to the watchdog group Center for Responsive Politics. During the 2002 election cycle he raised $91,500 from drug companies, the fourth-highest total from the industry to a member of the House during that cycle, which marked Tauzin's first as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. That committee has jurisdiction over the drug industry.
"The public certainly has a right to be skeptical about this," said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. "It's the classic Washington revolving door."
Tauzin joins former CMS Administrator Tom Scully, another main player in Medicare reform, who moved on to a job with ties to the drug industry. After the MMA was signed into law, Scully left the CMS and joined Alston & Bird, a law firm with healthcare clients, and became a senior adviser with Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe, a private equity firm that finances many healthcare companies. He is also a registered lobbyist for drug companies. While still CMS administrator, he got a waiver allowing him to negotiate for a job with potential employers that may have had a stake in the Medicare bill.
Tauzin announced his retirement from Congress early this year. He had been in talks with PhRMA but broke them off in February after he was diagnosed with cancer. Since then he's been battling the disease and said that the oncology drug Avastin saved his life. After his recovery, he instructed his lawyer to restart talks with PhRMA, Tauzin's spokesman said.
"As I worked through my recovery, I realized that I wanted to work in an industry whose mission is no less than saving and enhancing lives," Tauzin said in a statement posted on PhRMA's Web site.