Mary Tutwiler

Prescription for an unholy alliance

by Mary Tutwiler

It takes all kinds of odd ingredients to make a good pot of jambalaya. Take a taste of this strange melange.

There’s a behind-the-scenes battle going on in Congress right now over allowing U.S. citizens to buy cheap prescription drugs from Canada over the Internet. Called reimportation, Canadian drugs are politically popular, but a bête noire of the prescription drug industry and its lobbying group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. Chief lobbyist for the drug industry is former 3rd district Louisiana congressman Billy Tauzin. After meeting with the administration last week, Tauzin told the Wall Street Journal that the White House was in agreement with drug makers to take reimportation off the table because the proposed new health care bill should lower the price of prescription drugs enough to make reimportation unnecessary.

Senators from both sides of the aisle were incensed, particularly because President Obama, as a candidate, endorsed reimportation.

“I will fight for this,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont told the WSJ. He planned to call White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel “first thing in the morning.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid D-Nev., and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., are also in support of reimportation. So last Thursday, a member of the senate attached an amendment to allow the importation of prescription drugs to the $43 billion funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security now traveling through Congress.

So who is this senator who is willing, with the backing of some of the most liberal members of Congress, to face down Tauzin and the prescription drug industry? Louisiana’s own conservative Republican junior Sen. David Vitter. And just to add a little political spice to the pot, Vitter tossed in the reminder that he and then-Sen. Barack Obama co-sponsored a bill for reimportation back in 2006. Delicious.