WASHINGTON — Sen. David Vitter, R-La., took to the Senate floor Wednesday to chastise President Barack Obama for backing off support for the reimportation of pharmaceutical drugs from Canada and other nations.
Vitter’s criticism is a follow-up from last month’s investigation by the Republican-controlled House Energy and Commerce Committee that used emails dating back to 2009 to link the White House’s stance on reimportation to the pharmaceutical industry supporting and funding ads in favor of Obama’s health care law.
Vitter argued that “backroom deals” were used to reach a deal with the White House “essentially trading reimportation … if big PhRMA (the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America) would join the effort to pass Obamacare into law.”
“It was a backroom deal worth billions to big PhRMA,” Vitter said.
White House spokeswoman Joanna Rosholm said Wednesday the Republicans are trying to distract the president’s re-election campaign by recycling an old story.
“This House Energy and Commerce Committee has spent over $1 million in taxpayer dollars and the past 16 months making baseless, politically driven allegations, but has done almost nothing to move legislation that would create jobs or grow the economy,” Rosholm said.
In 2004, Vitter ran on a plank that included a pledge to push for legislation that would allow for the reimportation of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada.
Vitter was previously successful in having legislation passed that allowed people to bring prescription drugs across the Canada-U.S. border for personal use. But last year, the Senate voted down a Vitter amendment to allow American consumers to purchase Canadian drugs online. Vitter said the White House pressured Democratic senators to oppose the effort last year with the big PhRMA deal in place.
The probe also included the release of some emails involving or mentioning former Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-Chackbay, who stepped down as president and chief executive of PhRMA in 2010.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee investigation released emails, such as one from PhRMA consultant Steve McMahon in June 2009 to colleagues that read, “I told them there were bright lines, but phrma was serious about reform. We agreed that we would talk on a regular basis about what they wanted and what we might be able to do. I also told them if the lines were violated the money would go elsewhere ‘and that wouldn’t be good.’ They get it.”
The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s summary memo contended, “It seems clear a deal was struck: If PhRMA got the policies they wanted, then they would fund the advertising campaign the White House designated individuals requested.”
“McMahon suggested that attendees of the June 3 meeting understood that if PhRMA did not get what it wanted, not only would PhRMA decline to finance the ads thwe White House was seeking, but it could in fact mount a campaign against a health care reform bill,” the memo added.