Long-time readers know that I have been fascinated by the deal that the White House struck with the pharmaceutical industry to limit the industry's contribution to $80 billion in exchange for the industry's support of the administration's reform efforts (see here, here, and here).
My interest goes beyond the policy implications of the issue and to what it says about the Obama administration's strategic approach and willingness to stand by its commitments. To review what we have seen thus far in public sources, the White House struck the deal early in the summer. Shortly afterwards, Henry Waxman declared that he was not bound by any such deal, and neither was the White House. PhRMA CEO Billy Tauzin then pressed the White House on the issue, asking, quite reasonably, "Who is ever going to go into a deal with the White House again if they don't keep their word?" The White House responded by having Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina say that the White House would stick by its commitment. This angered Senate Democrats, who called in Messina and White House adviser David Axelrod for a meeting. Sens. Sherrod Brown and Dick Durbin reported that Axelrod said that the White House was not bound by the deal, but Durbin's staff denied this. Brown, for his part, insulted Tauzin by saying that "Billy Tauzin has not always been all that straight with the truth."
The latest development in this saga, according to the Washington Times, is that the Finance Committee is considering an amendment by Bill Nelson that "would effectively invalidate the highly touted deal between the White House and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, in which the group pledged $80 billion over 10 years to help cover seniors' drug costs." According to the Times, "Many lawmakers in the House and Senate have scoffed at the deal, arguing they don't have to live up to a White House handshake with a major industry group." All of the Committee Democrats except for Senator Carper will support the Nelson amendment. Carper argued "that regardless of the content of the deal, they couldn't undo it."
This latest kerfuffle comes on the heels of a recent report in the Hill that "Pelosi is backing away from a deal she cut with centrists to advance health reform." With this move, Pelosi is making it more likely that the government-run public option will be included in the new draft that the House Democrats expect to issue next week.
At the same time, President Obama is speaking to world leaders at the U.N. Don't think they aren't following this inability by our leaders to stand by their commitments.