The New York Times had an amazing front page story yesterday which I would have thought would have jumped to the top of every cable news cycle except for the Senate's confirmation of Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
The headline of the story was: "White House Affirms Deal on Drug Cost" by David Kirkpatrick.
I want you to read the lead paragraph very slowly: Pressed by industry lobbyists, White House officials on Wednesday assured drug makers that the administration stood by a behind-the-scenes deal to block any Congressional effort to extract cost savings from them beyond an agreed-upon $80 billion.
Whoa! Check Please!
How can the words "industry lobbyists" and "White House" be in the same sentence? We have been told - to the point of needing Compazine (an anti-nausea drug) - that this administration was, is, and will always be a lobbyist-free zone.
Yet, here it is; in the newspaper of record. The White House had reached a secret deal with the pharmaceutical industry to put a ceiling on the amount of money the government could save by negotiating for lower drug prices. In the words of the NY Times, the White House "had committed to protect drug makers from bearing further costs in the [health care] overhaul" but "had never spelled out the details of the agreement."
Oh, here we are in graf seven: The new attention to the agreement could prove embarrassing to the White House, which has sought to keep lobbyists at a distance, including by refusing to hire them to work in the administration.
Embarassing? Ya think, DiNozzo? (To quote Leroy Jethro Gibbs).
It turns out that there is a quid pro quo for keeping the drug companies out of the rough and tumble world of free markets. Again, from Mr. Kirkpatrick's piece:
Failing to publicly confirm [the drug lobby's] descriptions of the deal risked alienating a powerful industry ally currently helping to bankroll millions in television commercials in favor of Mr. Obama's reforms. [emphasis mine]
So… let me walk through this. In strange world in which Obamaville is located, lobbyists are bad only if and until the White House needs them to do things like run ads in favor of nationalized health care and then lobbyists are good.
So, what if the previously dreadful, greedy, self-serving oil companies sent their lobbyists in to cut a deal with Obama to support a cap-and-trade bill though heavy advertising? Might they trade for removing any caps on their profits?
I think I'm beginning to get how this works.
It works like … Chicago!
Unfortunately for Da Mayor of all the American People, the U.S. Congress isn't likely to roll over like a bunch of in-his-pocket Aldermen. The co-chairman of the House progressive caucus, Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz) was not thrilled to find out that while he has been working the halls of Congress, the White House has been working the watering holes of K Street.
Mr. Grijalva whined to the Times:
"Are industry groups going to be the ones at the table who get the first big piece of the pie and we just fight over the crust?"
Well, not to put too fine a point on it but … yes, Raul, put in your Sunday teeth and learn to enjoy the crust. It's all you're getting.
The insurance companies, who have been a recent talking point in Obama's speeches, have not lined up to cut a deal the way the drug guys have. Thus, they are being singled out.
Will the insurance companies get any help from the pharmas? Yea, right. According to the Times piece, having made its own deal, the drug industry's "lobbyists acknowledge privately that they have no intention of fighting" nationalized health care.
I don't blame the drug companies for making a deal. That's what lobbyists are paid to do. I do think that Mr. Obama might use his summer vacation to straighten that halo just a little bit.